My kiddos left yesterday for a 10 day adventure in Seattle with their dad and his family. They’ve been gone 24 hours and 6 minutes…not that I’m counting. I’m glad that they get to go visit their family and create memories with their cousins. We’ve never been apart for longer than a week, though, and try as I might, I can’t stop feeling a little melancholy at the prospect of being 2,200 miles away from them. To top it off, my stepsons went home today after their last summer week with us. I had a wistful little moment about that, too.
The summer evaporated, like water on a hot griddle–one sizzling, noisy moment at a time. It happened so slowly and all at once.
I feel a little lost.
I’m not one of those people who is looking forward to an empty nest. Ask me again when they’re teenagers, but right now, I adore being Mommy. All too soon I’ll just be “Mom,” and one more inevitable door will shut on their sweet innocence. I want to scoop up the moments I have with them and hide them somewhere that time can’t find them. Every time I snuggle my daughter until her eyelids overpower her will to stay awake and talk to me. Every time my son gives me a knowing smile about an inside joke that couldn’t possibly amuse anyone but us, but that makes him smile so much that even his recluse dimple shows. The way my stepsons crave the hugs of my husband, sinking comfortably into him when he picks them up as if they are feather-light. I tuck those moments away, with determination that I will remember every last detail, long after our children have grown up and left our home.
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. –Psalm 90:12
I might be a little lost, but I’ve also found some things.
I may not want an empty nest, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to miss my children. I wrote about the Blessing of Being Alone, and how precious it is to reunite with your family after you’ve been away from them. On the opposite side of that coin is the opportunity to reconnect with your spouse when your kids are away. If you are in a blended family, and you’ve managed to work out the improbable voodoo of coordinating childless weekends, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m not implying that there is a silver lining to being divorced. No–I picture the lining coated with that goo you find on the sidewalk when you walk down Bourbon Street at 7 am on a Sunday morning. You aren’t quite sure what it is, but you sure wouldn’t walk around in it in flip-flops. That being said, if there was a silver lining, this would be it. The time I have just to be alone with my husband is pure magic. Sitting in a clean house (hallelujah!), eating food our kids wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, laughing at our own inside jokes—it is a balm for the soul. When our nest is empty, we are only going to have each other. Thank goodness we like each other AND love each other.
On a more practical level, I’ve also found time to go to the gym for as long as I want. I did two sets when I lifted weights tonight. TWO WHOLE SETS! As if uninterrupted gym time wasn’t enough, we’re going to catch a baseball game with friends and have dinner with another set of friends. We’re actually going to remember what it’s like to be social–with real, live grownups, you guys.
*Note to self: do not refer to the restroom as the “potty” and PLEASE don’t ask grownup friends if they have to use it every time you walk past one. Also, please DO NOT refer to yourself in the third person as “Mommy.” Please, Lori. Don’t.*
Blended family or not, I hope you can find what is so easily lost in the hustle of parenthood.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, Mommy needs to take the dogs to go potty.
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.
If you are a working mom (or dad…or human…), you’ve likely suffered at some point from PVD—Post Vacation Dread. It starts out like any other virus–a little twinge here and there on your departing flight. A nagging little reminder on your return flight of the aches and pains to come. At my previous place of employment, PVD was a pandemic. During vacation season, it was nothing but bleary-eyed colleagues, staggering around the halls in a caffeinated haze, clutching their smoking laptops and pathetically asking “what happened while I was out of the office?” So many things, friend. So. Many. Things.
If you would have asked one of them (or me, for that matter) if it was “worth it” to take a vacation, knowing what awaited upon the return to the office, the answer would have been, at best, “I don’t know.” We were given a generous allotment of vacation time each year, and in the 7 years I was with the company, I used all of my vacation time only once. Once. I didn’t even come close the other 6 years. Why? It just wasn’t worth it. Instead of enjoying a stress-free, blissful vacation with my family, more often than not I found myself skeptically enjoying the first three days, and then spending the last four days nervously checking my inbox, panicking about the requests that steadily streamed in. You can’t recharge your batteries that way, and you can’t be an effective employee when you get back to the office. It just isn’t worth it.
In my current role, the PVD is less like the bubonic plague and more like that “food baby” feeling you get from eating too much pie. It’s a little unpleasant for a while, but totally worth it! We receive the same generous allotment of vacation time here, and I just realized today that I am going to use every last hour of it this year. Even more mind-blowing than that—I don’t take my work laptop on vacation with me anymore. It’s amazing how something that weighs about 10 pounds can feel like 100 pounds when you have to lug it around on your time off. I am so grateful for the opportunity to unchain myself from that weight.
One of the things I love about this company is that we use what we sell. For example, at any time of the day, any one of my co-workers can see my “status” and know if I am working, at lunch, on vacation, or if I don’t want to be disturbed. (It’s not creepy–I promise!) It’s very useful, but unless your company embraces a culture where that status is respected, it doesn’t do any good. The work/life balance is revered here, thankfully, and it shows in the loyalty and commitment the employees have for this company and its leadership.
I took several days off last week to go to the Grand Canyon with my husband and the two kiddos who were on Fall Break. I checked my work email three or four times while I was out, and while emails were coming in, the demands were not. The tone was that of respect for my family time and understanding that I would get to it all when I got back and had time to do it. Most email subject lines were “please don’t read this on vacation.” I am still working to catch up, but the level of understanding from my colleagues that I can’t do that in a day–or even a week–is so sweetly refreshing. Instead of spending this week in fetal position under my desk, I have spent it diligently plowing through my inbox and project list, my precious vacation memories intact, and with no regrets for daring to have a personal life. It was totally worth it.
I spent far too many years caught in the death spiral of a culture that treated me like property instead of a partner. The guilt of making your career a priority over your family when you feel like you don’t have a choice, is suffocating. Of course we love our families more than our employers. But if you love your family, you feel an obligation to support them and provide stability for them, yes? How can you do that if you refuse to give in to the soul-sucking demands of corporate America in an effort to keep your job? Believe me—I’ve been the mom on a conference call during a field trip. I’ve created Excel spreadsheets at soccer games. I’ve stepped out of school programs to email files that “just can’t wait.” I’ve even violated the sacred ritual of date night with my feverish email-stalking, waiting for data that I “desperately needed.”
No more. My life is going to be worth it. Every minute of it. Please don’t misunderstand me—I work hard and I bring the most value that I can to my employer, with the intent to constantly increase that value. As a Christian (and frankly, as a responsible member of the human race), it’s my obligation to do that. I just want to encourage you, if you feel like you are shackled to a job where anything outside of it “just isn’t worth it”, to take that terrifying first step to make a change. It might sound silly, but when I realized that I couldn’t take any more, I forced myself to apply to three jobs a week. They weren’t even things I was necessarily interested in or qualified for, but exposure to the application and interview process really helped me get my confidence back. I didn’t think I wanted the position I ultimately took here, but after my second interview, I knew that this was exactly what God had in store for me, and I haven’t stopped thanking Him since. I checked Glass Door for EVERY company with which I interviewed, to ensure that I didn’t jump out of the frying pan of misery and into the fire of a new hell. There is a lot of truth in that website. Check it out.
This random topic was on my heart today, so thanks for sticking it out with me if it doesn’t really apply to you. If it does, and you are mired in a career that is beating you down, let me know (privately, if you wish). I would love to pray for you and keep my ear to the ground for opportunities that can help you feel like your life is worth it again—because it totally is. Go get ’em!