During my devotions this week, one of the passages focused on the widow who used the very last of her oil and flour to make bread for Elijah during a great drought. At first she protested, telling him that she had just enough to make one last meal for her son and herself, after which they planned to wither away and die (a regular Susie Sunshine, eh?). Believing that Elijah was the man of God he said he was, however, she gave up her last meal and chose to trust that God would care for her and her son. To her delight, her oil jar and flour canister never ran out, no matter how many meals she made.
For this is what the Lord says: The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land—I Kings 17:14
When I read the story of the widow and Elijah, I personally relate it to the energy required to keep my family running. I kid you not, I did 7 loads of laundry yesterday and was all caught up for approximately 17.2 seconds, before I found another pile of dirty underpants and socks hidden in the far recesses of a bedroom. In addition to laundry, I cleaned, cooked, scrubbed dog pee out of the carpet, played the piano at church, went to the pool with the kids, worked on some writing projects, forced the aforementioned kids to bathe, made a campfire, caught up on work for my day job, went to Pilates and did my devotions. It was a slow day.
I know I don’t have the market cornered on busy days. I can feel your weariness from here, parents. So how do we keep the energy coming when we need it? We don’t. God does. And coffee. But mostly God. Even when a monkey wrench hits your to-do list squarely in the face, God keeps your energy canister just full enough. If it were solely up to me to get everything done, I would hibernate hard. Like a narcoleptic bear. God gives me (and you) what we need, though, just when we need it. All we have to do is ask. Now all I need to do is work on my attitude while I do it. I detest self-made martyrdom, but was guilty of it yesterday, I am ashamed to admit.
If you are up to your eyeballs in Clorox and carpooling, don’t fool yourself into thinking that the minutia isn’t a ministry. It absolutely is, my weary friends. Even when you feel unappreciated, used up and undone, God sees you and is tickled pink when you serve your family with humility and grace. To be clear, serving doesn’t make you a servant (lest you think you need to let your sweet little cherubs treat you like one), but serving changes you. It brings value to the mundane. (Remind me of this the next time I am picking Play-doh out of the dog’s fur, please.)
Here’s to you, Supermom and Superdad. Fold those socks and wipe those noses. Cut off those crusts and force-feed those vegetables. You are doing important work that only you can do.
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. —Romans 12:10-11
In the summers, we get to spend extra time with my stepsons and we have my kiddos almost every day, all day. While we love it, it definitely makes things tricky. My husband and I both work full time, so we have to weave an intricate matrix of “I’m-remote-this-day, you’re-remote-that-day” to ensure that someone is home with the kiddos during the week. Throw in business travel, volunteering, and events/dinners outside of working hours, and our matrix would make any flight control tower operator sweat a little.
This is the first week of the summer that I’ve worked from home solo with all five of the kids. I will be honest—I’ve been dreading it. We have some…extenuating circumstances…that ensure when my stepsons arrive, they act like we’ve never met, and I am some kind of axe murderer, just waiting for them to fall asleep so I can eliminate them. After a few hours, they come down from the ledge and remember that our home isn’t the dangerous Den of Iniquity and Child Torture they may have been warned about. They relax again and you can almost see a visible change of “Oh, yeah. These people actually love me. They love Jesus. They love each other. We do fun things here. I do not, in fact, need to sleep with one eye open.”
Lest you think I’m over here on my exasperated pedestal, wondering how anyone could possibly buy into the ridiculous lies and insecurity and jealousy that come oh-so-freely with a blended family, let me tell you—I am the Queen of buying into the lies of the Enemy. The Queen.
More often than I care to admit, I believe the same lies that my stepchildren hear from others, from society and from the media. We’ve been programmed by Disney for years that stepmothers are wicked, right? They are jealous, hateful monsters who seek only to lock you in a damp attic so they can have your father’s money and attention exclusively, yes? Hey, I love the attention I get from my husband. He’s affectionate and funny and makes me feel like the most important person in the world. Do I expect him to ignore his kids and pay attention only to me? Good heavens, no! I love how much he loves his (and my) children, and it only makes me adore him that much more. As for the money part—I make my own money, thank you very much. We both work hard to take care of our family and neither of us would have it any other way. Entitlement has no place in this home.
While we can logically separate the stepmothers portrayed in Disney cartoons from real life, we do fall for the lies of the Enemy over and over again. On especially crazy days, when parenthood and work and the responsibilities of life feel like too much, I start to let my hurt feelings and helplessness outweigh the opportunity and gifts I’ve been given. I wish away my life, one blended week at a time. All too soon, these precious (albeit taxing) days of our young family will be gone, and I’ll be left wondering where they went. I want a whole storehouse of sweet memories with all five of my kids before they leave home to start their own families. I want to make the most of the short time I have with all of them. But it’s so hard, when you’re in it.
Maybe you aren’t in a blended family and you’re hearing the same whispers of untruth. Other parents seem to have it all together, and you don’t. If you have to look at one more Utopic collage on Facebook of a perfect beach vacation, with a smiling family in coordinating white and khaki outfits, basking in the glow of a gorgeous sunset, you’ll lose it, right? Here you are, surrounded by 63,337 Legos, none of which are from the same $100 set, and you’ve stepped on 63,335 of them. You’re cleaning up dog vomit with one hand, and confiscating an iPad from a whining child with the other. You have a conference call in 10 minutes and you realize you haven’t made lunch (a lunch that at least 60% of your children will criticize and dramatically gag about). Utopia, it is not. I will readily admit that. What I strive to remember, and ask you to remember is that there are so many moments of sweetness inside the mess of it all. An unexpected hug from my stepson. A little love note from my husband. A mid-day snuggle with my daughter. A meal that is met with an approval rating above 60%. These moments are there. They’re everywhere. I promise. Don’t let the Enemy choke out the joy from the everyday. You are right where God wants you to be, and the season of parenthood is so short. Don’t miss it.
You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.– James 4:14
Love ‘em while you have ‘em, mamas. One day at a time.
My last post, coupled with this one, ought to give you a good picture of why it has been so long since I’ve posted. Moving and work. Work and moving. The problem is that I had no idea how true the title of my last post would be when I wrote it. We are literally, barely moving. We have had 25 showings in the 82 days we have been on the market. It’s a very respectable number, and those showings have resulted in some lovely (and not so lovely) feedback about our house. The part of my brain that holds the fiery, sarcastic venom would love to share some of the more…interesting…buyer comments with you, but I’ll save them for late night texts, laden with obscure Emojis, fired off in whiny frustration to my parents. Not one of those 25 potential buyers has made an offer yet. So—we plod on, spending hours on end cleaning and improving, and trusting God’s timing, and wondering if we really do want to move now that we’ve finished projects we should have done years ago, and our house looks so nice… but then, all 7 of us spend a weekend in our modest little ranch house and we all remember how precious square footage can be. Plus, building on sounds like such a mess. The sawdust. The hammering. The unusable kitchen and trying to cook for 7 people on a hot plate in my living room. Bring on showing #26, I say!
So, on to the other half of my absenteeism. Simply put: being a working parent stinks. Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful for my job. I truly love my boss and my coworkers. The culture of my company is uh-mazing. I can wear a suit one day, and my super-cute-but-sweatpant-level-comfy boyfriend jeans the next. It’s not the job. The job allows me to pay for our home and Christian school and violin lessons and gymnastics. It allows me to give to my church and to causes I believe in. It also supports my shoe habit (which has been hindered a bit now that we are in the market for the aforementioned square footage). So, it’s definitely not the job. I manage high-profile, complex projects, and I thrive on the panicky thrill of it. God put me where I am for a reason—even when I thought I knew better. He carefully steered me right where I needed to be and has blessed me over and over and over since. It feels so good to be good at what I do. I hope that doesn’t sound braggy. I don’t mean it to be. I screw up. I have to Google unfamiliar industry terms at least 14 times a day. I just know a good thing when I have it, and thank you, God—I have it. However, being a mom and marketer is hard. So hard.
My husband is suffering from the pungent stink of working parenthood too. My oldest stepson has had two track meets so far this season, and work obligations have prevented my husband from attending both of them. Hearing his son confirm how disappointed he is pours salt on the already raw wound that all working parents have. I can’t stop thinking about it either. I remember how proud I was knowing that my parents were sitting in the stands. I hate it for my stepson, and I hate it for my husband. Last night, I was on a 12 mile run, getting panicky texts every few miles from him that he was still stuck in a meeting and he was going to miss the whole thing. Of course then I started imagining my stepson progressing through his races, realizing on the last one that his dad wasn’t going to make it. My imagination has a flair for the dramatic. I would have loved to show up to cheer for him, but we’re still at the stage of our blended family where a solo appearance from the stepmom might elicit a reaction other than joy. Hopefully that will change someday, but until then, I’m cheering for him in my imagination and will cheer for him in person, next to my husband when we can be there.
Working parents (inside and outside the home, in most cases) can’t do everything or be everywhere, and for those of us who want to excel at everything, that realization is a bitter pill to swallow. We rarely feel 100% present for anything. When we are with our kids, we worry about deadlines. When we are at work, the guilt-song of missing something important to our kids is the soundtrack for every conference call.
Today, after I picked my kids up (an hour later than I promised) from school, my daughter excitedly told me that her 1st grade field trip to a dairy farm is next Thursday. “NEXT Thursday? Are you sure?” I asked her. As she confirmed the date and went on and on about how excited she is for me to go with her, I had to break the news that I will be on a work trip in Los Angeles next Thursday. Her big, beautiful, blue eyes immediately filled up with tears. She tried so valiantly to be cool about it, but her words came out as a tragic wail. “That’s okay, Mommy. I understaaaaaaaaaaaand.” My heart scrunched up into a little knot as the Mom-guilt beat it with a baseball bat. Oh, those heartbroken little sobs. Ugh. It burns.
I wish I had some poignant encouragement for all of you parents out there who are going through the same stuff. You know those “Dear Mom Who Thinks She’s ______ (insert failure of choice)” blogs? The ones that make you want to stand up on your office chair and yell “I’m flawed and that’s awesome! Go me!” Yeah…this isn’t one of those. The push and pull of work vs. life doesn’t seem to get any easier. Ever. Next week, I go to Louisville to Chicago to Los Angeles and back, and I know that every minute, I’ll be wondering what my kids and husband are up to and counting the hours until I get home to the sweet monotony of cleaning my house for showings and packing lunches and listening to spelling words. It’s hard, but it’s reality. It’s okay because it has to be if I want to continue to be the kind of parent who not only provides the necessities of life for my kids, but models hard work to them too. Whether you are a stay at home parent or a corporate road warrior, I’ll pray for you, and you pray for me, okay? All God requires of us is to give our best. If my best is awkwardly crying into my airport burrito while my daughter goes to a dairy farm without me, then that’s my best, and that’s okay. God will handle the rest.
One final note…I can never unsee the “miracle of life” that was the calf being born when I went with my son on that same field trip. The memory is still so fresh and…squishy. I have been mentally preparing for two years to see it a second time with my daughter’s class, but work has intervened at the last moment, like a governor with the 11:59pm pardon.
Now that I think of it, maybe being a working parent has its perks…
I am sure you have all heard sayings and motivational speeches that talk about how change is this special, wonderful thing that happens in life and you just float along on a magic carpet driven by a team of unicorns, blissfully waiting to see where life will take you next. “Embrace change.” “Change is good.” Umm…no. No, it’s not. Change is a horrifying, fire-breathing monster, just waiting for people like me to come along and stumble into its jaws. That’s how it feels to me. I know, I know. That’s not exactly the case. Some of the best things in my life have been a result of change that petrified me at the time. Becoming a mother was a scary change. Becoming a mother of two, getting re-married, becoming a step-mother, changing careers—all incredible blessings in my life that seemed like gaping holes of potential failure to fall into at the time. When I am faced with change, my brain and my body team up to create a panic so mighty that I can barely move. I pray and I hold onto promises that I know are true—God has plans to prosper me and not to harm me. God knew what my life held before I was even born. His love is bigger than any circumstance of any kind. I know this. I do. So why can’t I adapt to change more easily?
That brings me to the latest change in our household. We are out of room. Out. We have a little girl who is sharing a bedroom with two of her brothers. The clock is loudly ticking on that one. On a half-whim, half-wish about a week ago, I checked the real estate list that we receive every couple of days from the last time we decided it was time to either move or build on (soon after which I spun into a panic and went to my go-to strategy of “Never mind; let’s just ignore the problem. Wheeeee!”) I emailed a few potential houses to my husband with the usual attitude of “Meh. These are okay.” And then—I saw it. A house that had almost everything on our wish list, at a great price and in a beautiful neighborhood. Oh, man. Before I had time to talk myself out of it, I emailed our realtor (who has the patience of a saint) and asked if we could see it. On the way there, I talked myself out of it pretty handily. “Too far from school.” “Too many trees.” “Too far from Target.” As soon as we stepped in though, it felt right. Maybe not even the house itself, but the process. I need God to practically hit me over the head with a blinking sign sometimes before I can shut up the Doubt Committee in my head and move forward. I am panicking hardcore about this move, BUT whether we get that house or not, and whether it happens in a month or a year, I can feel God breathing His will into our plans so far, and that helps. You guys, I rented a storage unit yesterday so that we can box up our excess stuff and stage our house to put it on the market. Me–the Anti-Change! The goal is to make it look like a normal family could move right in, instead of potential buyers thinking “This is like the clown car of homes. How many people live here?!?” That 10×15 rented room makes this all real. That’s so scary.
Last night in the shower, I had a good, long cry about the process (I have my best emotional breakdowns in the shower—highly recommend it). I let myself be sad about the thought of leaving the home where I rocked and snuggled and loved on my newborn babies. I let myself mourn the loss of the beautiful yard and trees and peaceful neighborhood where my kids learned to ride bikes, and grew from sweet, helpless infants to lovely, capable children–almost overnight. I will miss our friendly, considerate neighbors and the long, summer walks around our circle. I will miss the “Fire Truck Parade” every 4th of July. I will miss sitting under our covered patio, watching thunderstorms roll in. I’ll miss roasting hot dogs in a fire pit that is entirely too close to the house. It all hurts to leave behind. That said, I know that there are equally wonderful memories to be made wherever we wind up. I may be leaving the house I’ve called home for so long, but I’m taking what’s in it. Yes, I’m talking about my shoes.
Okay, okay…fine. I’m talking about my family.
So here’s to moving when you’re barely moving, and trusting that it will be wonderful at the end of the unknown. We would appreciate your prayers for God’s continued guidance as we figure out how to pack up our circus and where to set up our tent.
In the meantime, we’ll take ALL your empty boxes, please. Another 97,000 should do it.
Earlier this school year, my daughter’s teacher sent an email asking for a volunteer to teach art class one day a month. After briefly thinking it over, I decided I can surely handle one day a month for a measly hour, and told her I would be happy to help. No sweat, right?
I scoured Pinterest for a few age-appropriate ideas. Next, I invaded Michael’s Crafts to get the necessary items to complete the oh-so-adorable projects my 19 little charges would skillfully assemble, their cherubic faces shining up at me in artistic bliss.
I was eager to complete our first project—a cute little fall tree with ink thumbprint leaves. It went better than I expected, and the trees looked as delightful as you might imagine a forest of sweet little 1st grade thumbprint trees would look.
Feeling a bit more confident, I chose a Thanksgiving-themed paper mosaic for our next project. The kids glued and assembled with ease, even practicing their writing skills and assisting with cleanup afterward.
Oh, Overconfidence. You sneaky little weasel. You get me every time. Having forgotten that surety in life, I said to myself in my post-mosaic glow: “Wow! This is going so well. Maybe we’re ready for something a little more complicated!” No. No, you fool.
That brings us to this morning.
Pinterest, which is in constant cahoots with Overconfidence, derailing women everywhere, whispered “Why don’t you try this cute little sponge-painted masking tape snowflake, complete with glitter and a Christmas-themed name plate on a matted construction paper frame?” Sure. Why not? We glued little scraps of paper last time and that went fine.
I arrived at school early this morning, carefully setting out baggy T-shirts for each child to wear over their uniform. I gave each child their own palette of paint and their own sponges. I even clipped clothespins to the sponges so they wouldn’t get any paint on their sweet little fingers. I placed newspaper on each table, and thought “Perfect. Mess contained.” I mentally congratulated myself on covering all my bases.
You guys—I HAVE A 1ST GRADER OF MY OWN. How on earth did I let Pinterest talk me into this? I know better. Paint plus children ALWAYS equals “WHAT HAVE I DONE?!?” at some point.
Fast forward to 20 minutes into class, as the kids are busily sponging their masking tape snowflakes. So far so good. Then the hands begin to shoot up in the air. Since my daughter’s last name is not the same as my re-married name, there is much confusion about what to call me (Mrs. Brown or Mrs. Stout). It goes something like this:
“Mrs. St….ork? I have paint on my elbows.”
“Mrs. Str…ong? I have to use the bathroom.”
“Mrs. Brot? There’s paint in my shoe.”
“Mrs. Stouuuuu…? What do I call you again? Strobe? Stubb? I have to use the bathroom.”
“Mrs. Mom? I dropped my plate of paint.”
“Mrs. Bort? I have to use the bathroom.”
“Mrs. Storbt? There’s paint in my nose.”
At this point, everyone is done painting and it’s time to clean up. It looks like a blue paint grenade went off. I send the kids to the bathroom two boys and two girls at a time. Or…so I think. The crowd suddenly seems very thin. I count heads as quickly as I can. It is remarkably hard to count to 18 (one child was absent) when you are panicking. Try it sometime.
Hearing the unmistakable whoops (in an otherwise quiet school) of MORE than two little boys shrieking in the restroom, I realize I have to go restore order. But…can I go in the boys’ bathroom? Can I do that? Is that going to get me put on some kind of registry? Panic! Panic! The only other male I know for sure who is nearby is the school administrator, and I am not willing to concede defeat yet, so I will not ask him. I will not. Just then, a little boy returns, informing me that another of my little painters has somehow accidentally painted his forehead and the bathroom mirror blue, using only the residual paint from his hands. I am briefly impressed by the skill a feat like that requires. Briefly.
Feeling a little dizzy, I seat the rest of the kids at a clean table with the second part of the art project to occupy them, and poke my head around the corner to the restroom, using my best stern teacher voice. It worked! Oh, man! IT WORKED! The boys, including the one with the bright blue forehead and hopelessly blue palms, file back to the table and meekly sit down.
Smugly enjoying my little victory, I turn back to the art table.
Oh. Hello, Overconfidence…
One of the little girls tells me that a drain is clogged in the girls’ bathroom and “it’s starting to get serious.” Get serious? What does that even mean? Envisioning a mixture of blue paint, waste water and soggy paper towels flooding out into the quiet halls, I briefly consider sending someone to get the teacher. But, I just can’t. Their teacher is simply amazing. Both of my kids have had her now, and I have watched her with awe. Her students adore her, but they also toe the line and adhere to the tight ship that she so skillfully runs. Imagining how I would tell her that I am responsible for painting a child blue and flooding the girls’ bathroom, I decide to just power through the last ten minutes of class and hope for the best. I can run fast, and there are other Christian schools in Indianapolis. The kids will get over it.
God looked down on me in that moment and cringed in sympathy, shaking His head and sending the most good natured of guardian angels to go unclog the drain. I ask the children to sit down at the table and fold their hands. They obediently comply, smiling sweetly at me, unaware of how tragically inept I feel at that moment. I remember then why I volunteered in the first place and feel the panic fade. Just then, their teacher walks in to find 18 quiet children, patiently waiting to go back to their classroom. It was like I knew what I was doing for one brief, shining moment.
I tell the kids how much I appreciate their enthusiasm for our art projects and how beautifully they completed their paintings (because they honestly did—I am so proud of them!), and then tell them that just because I am not their homeroom teacher, that each and every one of her rules still apply during art, so please (PLEASE!) don’t go to the restroom without telling me where you are going. They all readily promise and sincerely thank me. They are all so sweet. Even the blue ones.
As I scrubbed blue paint off of the floor and the walls and the tables and the chairs and the sinks and the toilets and myself this morning, I made a mental note that Pinterest is a vindictive liar, and never to trust it again.
If you are a teacher and you are reading this, please know that you have my awestruck, eternal respect. That includes, you, Mom. (You had to teach me!) I do not know how you do it all day long, five days a week, teachers. Seriously…how do you do it? Can you help me get through an hour without turning someone into a Smurf? Please?
I thank God for the wonderful teachers and administrators and staff who selflessly give their time, emotions, resources, and whole hearts to my kids and kids everywhere. Hats off to all of you!
Oh, look. There’s paint on my hat…
If you’ve read my blog before, you are aware that I try to write in a positive light. A funny anecdote here…a poignant little “Life Lesson by Lori” there. Not today. Consider yourself warned, and stop here if you’re looking for a little Mary Poppins/Little Orphan Annie positivity. I am fresh out.
I am three stomach pills and two pain patches into my evening, and right now one child is screeching “everybody haaaaaaaaaates me!” at the top of his/her (okay, her) lungs, while two more deal out their self-imposed righteousness on her, because clearly they are FAR too cool to play with anyone besides each other, and they like cutting her down. They are a very small, very obnoxious little gang. What they fail to remember is that this is my turf and I am the ultimate warlord in this house. Oh, sure—I’ll let them build their little enterprise of snobbery for a short while—give them the false illusion of power. Then I will crush them in true, spectacular warlord style. The whiny one will mistake my annoyance for benevolence and pledge her lifelong allegiance to me. I’ll take it. I could use the spy power, frankly.
The remaining two children are in their room playing a game where the apparent object is to “KILL! KILL! DIE! DIE!” I do not endorse this game. I have vocalized this. Several times. That’s all I will say about that. For now.
Why the fury? That’s the thing—there are some really craptacular things going on (see below), but honestly, they’re all manageable. I just feel like being mad today about all of them at once.
*My dad is back in the hospital with some crazy things going on that no one can explain.
*I was rejected by the Mayo Clinic today for help with my GI stuff, basically because I am only very sick. Not very, very sick.
*I am up to my eyeballs in work projects that are high-visibility and very complicated and SO NUMEROUS.
*I have to present to 175 people in NYC in a few days and I’m a little stressed. When I’m stressed, I can’t stray far from a bathroom.. I can’t find a bathroom that will hold all 175 people to whom I need to present.
*My husband is awaiting a job offer that seems to be forever in the making. For. Eh. Ver. He’s certainly tenser about this line item than I am, but tell that to my intestines. I dare you.
*I am tired. I am so tired. I feel like the demands of work, parenthood and being a human are a Hefty bag over my head and somebody’s cinching that &$@#&! Cinch-Sak a little tighter every day.
I hate myself just a little for being stressed out about all of this. However, I am writing this in case you just feel like being mad too. Here’s the best I can do in the Pollyanna department, friends: if you feel like you could drop kick a kitten and smile about it, you are in good company. Angry high fives all around.
I love kittens.
I love my family more than words.
I trust God and His plan for me.
I love my job.
I am grateful for my life.
I am not terminally ill. I am just miserably ill.
None of that has changed my inability to stop scowling today.
Of course I’ll pray tonight and ask God to help me dial my sassy pants back a notch or two, and I am confident that tomorrow I’ll be better equipped to handle things. Tonight though—TONIGHT– I am going to Hulk it out. Silently, but spectacularly. I don’t yell when I’m mad. I get really, really quiet. Terrifyingly, ominously, atmospheric-pressure-changingly quiet. The pets run away. The birds stop singing. Nary a chirp from a cricket. And then it passes, and the woodland creatures cautiously poke their heads out of their homes and I can “glass half full” it again.
Hulk it out if you want to, friends. The warlord will not judge you.