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The more I’m in my zone, the more I love parenting.

My zone is rarely clean, it doesn’t look like a pinterest craft, it’s not matching or clever. My zone is a hint of a plan mixed with some spontaneity against a backdrop of disorder with splashes of creativity and colour and a huge helping of deliciousness and the sounds of guitars, piano and voices. If there’s learning involved, I’m thrilled. If we’re outside, fantastic. If it’s fun, even better. If we’re laughing, consider it the best thing ever.

That’s my zone for now, and living in it brings joy to my soul, life to my days as a mom and if I’m reading the laughter in their eyes, wonder to my sons.

Yesterday it was a late afternoon spent running around in the wet, semi-dark yard. With milk in hand, of course.

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Baby watched from the porch. He is generally content anywhere but ridiculously happy outside.

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Little Boy and I kicked a ball and leaves around.

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Today we spent the morning in a nearby shopping centre, only to come home to 13 C (55 F) and sun, and when in Sweden in October, we chase the sun. So I told Little Boy were were going to have an outdoor picnic, ran inside, took his IKEA table out (it’s a bit too wet to sit on the grass), grabbed a candle, his little pumpkin and last night’s soup and we picnicked outdoors.

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And we feasted on my chicken meat ball, noodle and swiss chard soup. Not true. I feasted on it. Little Boy ate some of the noodles and a bit of the meat balls. We’ll try again next time, but the soup was seriously delicious.

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The table has oily hand print marks and dirt, the candle got blown out, and I still needed to deal with whining about food. Oh and breastfeed a baby while try to eat soup at the same time.

But the wind blew leaves down, and Little Boy gazed at them falling with wonder in his eyes. The sun warmed us up. We had fun. It was a great moment, and now a few hours later, a treasured memory.

This is my zone, and it feels good.

What’s your zone? What’s the space in which you are fully yourself? How can you invite your kids, family, friends and people around you into that space?

This post is Day 24 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time.

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)

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Dear Devi,

Hey, you over there, can you hear me? Yes, I heard the lady in the church crèche, too. Her son was talking at 10 months, and I saw your heart filling slowly with fear. You wondered about Little Boy – nine months at the time – and why he didn’t have words yet. You’re feeling afraid, afraid that you haven’t read enough, talked enough, spent enough time together, and you’re wondering about development, intelligence, autism.

How is comparison working out for you today? Here’s my opinion – not very well.

You thought you were great at not comparing him to other babies, but that’s only because when you compared him at the beginning, he was doing fine. There was no reason to worry and lots of reasons to feel like you were doing a great job.

Because that’s what comparison was about, wasn’t it? You needed all the evidence you could find that you were an adequate mother, that you were figuring out this baby thing, that you were doing a good job. In the absence of a progress report, salary or job performance evaluation, what you had instead was a baby, and there had to be a way to find out how he was doing you were doing.

Was he rolling over in time? Yes. Was he sleeping well at night? At the beginning, yes. Was he napping? Like a star. Did he cry for long periods of time? Never.

You desperately needed to know you were doing a good job, and he made it so easy for you to do that in the beginning. Comparison seemed like the only way you could know for sure that you were enough. You were enough because he was doing well. You knew he was doing well because he was winning a game. 

Here’s the thing, Devi. Children aren’t trophies, they are your treasures, your relationships, your gifts, but they are not trophies. They are not evidence of parenting successes or failures. Please don’t set yourself and your son up for a co-dependent future. He can own his successes, and he can own his failures. Your successes and failures are yours to own.

The more you feed the comparison monster, the more it will grow. Put yourself around comparison-oriented people, and the monster will thrive.

You don’t want this way of life for yourself, and you don’t want it for your children. You long to be the mother that only you can be because you are unique, with a unique past, moving toward a unique future. And you want your children to live free without the fear that they can’t meet a certain standard set by other people or even set by you. Little Boy, he wants to know that he can live, grow, thrive in a way that is his alone, not the way the sons in other families live. No other family in the world is like yours, every family has it’s special purpose, so don’t lock yourself into the box that comparison will build for you. 

So relax a little. You’re free to be a good mother, you’re free to be the mother you are supposed to be, the one who cooks with her boys, the one who doesn’t have lots of rules, who sings and dances daily, the one who reads a lot, who doesn’t give baths, the one likes to sit and think and think and think and so many other quirks and oddities and specialities and normalities. This is you. No need to be anyone else or try to meet someone else’s standard.

When you compare yourself, when you compare your children, this is what you are doing – making someone else’s life and standard the best thing and measuring your worth and your life to that standard. Whether you succeed or fail in the comparison game isn’t the point, as long as your way of measuring success is comparison, you will just keep having to do it. This is why it is so destructive – it keeps you coming back for more.

And one day it will wear you out. You will get tired of succeeding in your comparisons because it means you won’t get close to people. You will get tired of failing in your comparisons because it will make you feel worthless. But before it does that, it will wear out your kids and give them lots of reasons not to trust you. Every child gets to the point when they realize a parent is measuring their worth against someone else, and it immediately leads to feelings of inferiority, guilt and resentment. 

No comparison, Devi. Never. Ever. No one has a perfect family, and your family relationships are not your achievements. When you understand who you and Husband are, how you parent, who your kids are and what makes them tick and build the family only you are supposed to be, you give yourself, your husband, and your boys the gift of freedom.

Set your family free from the burden of comparison and watch them thrive in the light of grace and truth. 

Love,

Devi

If you’re interested in more thoughts about comparison, I wrote about it for 31 Days in October 2012.

This post is Day 23 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time.

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)

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This is the inevitable post about marriage, or the inevitable post about toilet paper in marriage. I report you, decide, but either way, We Are Going There.

Husband and I have different bathroom habits. We side-stepped the how-to-squeeze-a-tube-of-toothpaste debacle, and for a while I thought we were superior to every other married couple for it, but in the end the toilet paper was my downfall.

I put the toilet paper where it should go: on the silver toilet holder, located to the right of the toilet slightly behind the seat, but if he started a roll, it always went on top of the washing machine directly to the left of the toilet seat. For some reason this misplaced roll began to drive me crazy.

I don’t know what the first real negative thought was, but somewhere along the way it morphed from a minor annoyance into a full-fledged source of resentment.

I assumed he was doing it on purpose (assumptions are usually fueled by accusations).

He knows I want the toilet paper on the roll. Why does he want to frustrate me on purpose by putting it on the washing machine?

I made more assumptions.

He is probably trying to play a game with me, like he wants me to put the toilet paper on the roll instead of doing it himself, he thinks his will is stronger than mine and that I will cave first. He has no idea how strong-willed I am. I will never cave. 

There were times when the toilet paper was left on the washing machine for weeks, and every time I looked at it, the roll was the silent reminder that Husband and I were locked in a power struggle: Who was going to win? Who was going to move the toilet paper to its proper place? 

A few times when I started a roll,  I put it on the washing machine on purpose. (Warning: Extreme Neurotic Thinking Ahead.)

That will show him! I’m above needing to follow even my own rules! I’m going to try to drive him crazy by putting him in the position of having a roll on the washing machine that I put there and now he’ll have the pressure to put it on the holder!!!! I beat him at his own game!!!

On days when I was already mad about something else, the toilet paper on the washing machine taunted me- He doesn’t care about you, he is not interested in your marriage, he doesn’t love you. 

I didn’t say anything about the toilet paper for a year-and-a-half. Finally we were in Australia in January 2012, eating lunch with my sister and her fiancee and having conversations about marriage. I decided to volunteer the story about the toilet paper roll as an example of not talking about things, but I was going to do it in a “ha ha, so funny” way so that Husband would realize how much it bothered me without having to talk to him about it.

(I believe counselors refer to this as passive aggressive behavior.)

After I told the story, Husband looked at me like I was strange, and said, I put the toilet paper on the washing machine because it’s easier to reach. I thought I was making life easier for both of us. 

Just to recap in case some of the details got lost:

For a year-and-a-half, I saw toilet paper on the washing machine and felt like I was having a marriage crisis, resented my husband and thought badly of him.

For-a-yar-and-a-half, Husband put toilet paper on the washing machine because he thought he was making our lives easier.

I wasted a lot of time on toilet paper.

It’s no secret that marriage is tough after kids, and there are plenty of studies out indicating that marital satisfaction plummets post first baby. Believe me, this little blog post is not going to tell you anything you don’t already know, and I certainly have no great secrets about how to make marriage work after kids (only that you have to make it work, you’re welcome).

Marriage is hard work for every married person; it doesn’t matter what you believe, what kind of life you have, where you live or what your histories are.

So here’s my lone nugget of wisdom, maybe even truth, and God only knows my life would be better if I lived by it:

If you hear an accusation about your spouse in your head or from another person, you have only two options ever: 1. resolve it immediately in your head and heart so it does not come between the two of you or 2. talk about it with your spouse. 

Dismiss or talk. That’s it, no exceptions.  (And dismiss means do not think about it ever again.) 

Living this out is ridiculously difficult for me partly because I am easily prone to judgment; not everyone is, your character flaws are different from mine. But the few times when I’m able to pre-empt judgment, accusations and negativity by talking to Husband about whatever has been bothering shows me that it is worth talking and having those conversations I would rather avoid.

The seemingly worst talks – and after kids, the talks are also at the worst times – lead to a richness of friendship, and a depth of love that is better than anything I could have ever hoped for. Honesty and vulnerability with your spouse is worth it.

What is something you need to discuss with your spouse? Something he or she does that eats away at you and you can’t put it aside? Isn’t it time to sit down and have the conversation? Or can you find away to put it out of your head? 

This post is Day 22 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time.

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.) 

confessions graphic FINALHe was a gruff, Greek man who gave driving lessons in Melbourne, Australia, and I needed lessons because my driving test was only a few weeks away. I was feeling woefully unequipped to take the test and feeling insecure about my ability to parallel park, among other things. He came to our house in Noble Park, asked me to drive around for 10 minutes, and then told me to pull over.

Your problem, he said forcefully, is your RUSHNESS! Where do you need to go? Why are you in such a hurry? 

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I wasn’t speeding, but he saw impatience in the way I drove. Maybe he knew he was talking about much more than just my driving. For as long as I can remember, I have always been in a hurry to get things done, to be at the top of a line, to get off an airplane, to be on time or even early. I rarely ever walked or strolled through parks or shopping areas. I was on the move, on the go, needing to get somewhere even if there was nothing really to be done. Getting somewhere, getting things done, these were like necessary, daily accomplishments, the little ways in which I felt good about myself at the end of a long day.

Having children has given me many gifts, and one of them is this: my boys force me to slow down

I can’t even squeeze a lemon at my own pace anymore. Little hands want to help. Little hands need to help. It is good for him to squeeze a lemon and learn how to cook, it is good for me to step back, enjoy the way he enjoys lemons and slow down. 

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Trips outdoors don’t happen without a good 20 minutes worth of chasing a little boy around the house to get a jacket, rain boots and other outdoor gear on. When we are out, I rarely come home in the time I think it will take. We are usually out much, much longer. It is good for him to stay outside, to learn about nature, to soak up the sun, to delight in the beauty of the natural world, to just be in it. It is good for me to learn the same lessons. I can’t do it without slowing down, letting go of my plans for the day, releasing my need to stay in control of a schedule. 

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Wearing Baby, oh this is one of the most inconvenient, slowing means of newborn care I’ve ever encountered. It’s like being in a third trimester all over again, it makes it harder to play with Little Boy, it’s tiring. But Baby loves it, he leans back, looks in my eyes and grins. He knows he is safe, loved, protected, nurtured. It is good, right, perfect for him to know these things, and it is good for me to love him in a way he understands even when it’s inconvenient for me. It is good to be forced to physically slow down, to be limited, to know the truth – I have limitations. I cannot do it all. 

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A home with children in it has lots of messes – lovely messes, the messes of little hands that want to help, that want to explore, that want to create. So we take a big cardboard box, put it in the middle of the living room, cut windows out and a sun roof. The paint comes out, drips on the floor, but he puts his pots and pans inside and makes me an egg. It is good for him to know that in our home he is free to explore, to learn, to create. He is free to make messes (and clean them up) and be as messy as he wants. Our house is a place where imperfection is celebrated. And it is good for me to know that I am not the sum total of a clean, orderly home, that there is much more to having things “look good” and “look right.” It is good for me to slow down, let days unfold and let the messes unfold for behind every one of his messes and mine, there is a nugget of gold, the little glimmer of what he was made to do, who he was made to be. What I was made to do, whom I was made to be. 

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Slow down. There’s no rush. You can be late. These are words I tell myself regularly at home, in the car, when we are out. I give myself permission to slow down and do less, and in doing so I find that my soul lives with more freedom and my children do as well.

This post is Day 18 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time.

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)

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There are musicians that partner with you in the different stages of life, and for me Sara Groves is one of those. My little sister gave me “Fireflies and Songs” before I left for Geneva to be with not-yet-Husband.

He and I started our three months in the same city by getting engaged and ended it with our civil wedding. It was packed three months, let’s say. The majority of our relationship was long distance, so these months were virtually the only time we had to understand the daily ins and outs of each others lives.

I used to sit in my apartment – a friend’s that she generously shared with me in her own last months in Geneva – listening to song after song from “Fireflies,” writing in my journal, staring at the Jet D’Eau and the lake, trying to come to grips with what was happening in my life. It was a happy time, yes, but it felt so deep, so serious, the process of getting ready to commit my whole life to another person, and I found comfort in the raw honesty of Sara Groves’ words about the difficulties of marriage.

A few weeks ago one Saturday morning, I got out of bed and walked down with Baby in my arms. Husband and Little Boy were in the kitchen making pancakes, and this CD was playing through our sound system. I wasn’t fully down the stairs before the wave of memories took me back to the couch from Pakistan, the fireplace, Anna’s little speakers on the floor.

We’re looking for the music in the music box, tearing it to pieces, trying to find the song… 

I had almost forgotten the order of songs on the CD because when the next song started playing, I heard season after season of the past three years of babies and bellies, marriage and changes and life. I read somewhere that Groves wrote “From This One Place” about her struggle with the onset of anxiety in her life; she didn’t have it before but one day it started when she was about to go on stage and play (I’m working off my memory for this one so it might not be correct).

Maybe one of the reasons why I struggled so much was there was never a real diagnosis, no one ever thought I was depressed or anxious. I was functioning, and in a lot of ways I was more than “just” functioning. We ate well, our apartment was in order, the boys were always taken care of. I didn’t shower often, but you know. There was never anything technically wrong, but it didn’t change the sadness of soul that was permanently there.

From this one place, I can’t see very far… I hear her singing from our white curving staircase in the yellow house in Stockholm 2013, and it’s the words I want to go back and tell my 28, 29, 30-year-old self.

All I could see was breastfeeding that would never end, never having my body to myself again.

All I could see was never having a full night of sleep again.

All I could see was the mountain of work that childcare is, the physical, emotional and spiritual work that seemed to never ever end.

All I could see was time I no longer had with the husband I loved and with myself.

All I could see was that hobbies, friends, the things I loved were changing, disappearing.

All I could see was a new version of myself, a version I could not recognize, a person I did not know.

From this one place, I can’t see very far. From this one moment, I’m square in the dark. 

My outlook was one of total lack – I did not have enough, I did not have what I needed, I did not have what I wanted.

But the truth was so much simpler.

From this one place, I could not see very far. 

Difficult times always feel desperate, and it’s these seasons when we are most tempted to make declarations about our lives. “I will never _______, it will always ________.” It wasn’t the time to judge, to have expectations, to whine, to complain, to try to change people and control. It was the time to grieve and to wait. 

I walked into the kitchen where Husband was making pancakes, and Little Boy was screaming excitedly waiting for his. We sat down as a family at our Saturday morning table, pancakes with maple syrup with two boys that we adore, Husband holds my hand, Little Boy holds the other one and we pray.

We thank God for giving us our daily bread, butter and maple syrup.

And I move on from this table with life, with confidence, with peace, with security, with joy overflowing, and truly I cannot believe it because I can remember how deep the pain ran these past three years, the bitter taste still on my tongue. But I know the battle I waged against insufficiency, I can recount every fight with the demons of insecurity and disappointment, and I know that when I look at my open hands today and see beauty and good and joy and safety and peace, I know that these are the fruits plucked only from the tree of suffering.

From this one place, I can’t see very far…. these are the things I will trust in my heart: You can see something else. 

What are you facing in your life today? What declarations are you making about this time? Is it the time to judge? Or the time to wait? 

This post is Day 15 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time.

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)