mindset

Raising the Good Guys and Bad Guys

The three people in my house under the age of five have been obsessed with the idea of good guys and bad guys lately.

“I’m Batman!” Caden, my four-year-old-son, proclaims as he runs around in his blanket cape.

“And Robin!” the two-year-old replies, right behind him.

“Let’s get the bad guys!” they cry in unison.

My husband and I are usually stand-ins for the villains. I sigh inwardly at their use of the term “bad guys”. But this is all so developmentally appropriate, this cop-and-robber-type play, I’m not sure I should step in, or even what to say if I do.

2019 05 12 Caden Nolan Playtime 01.jpg

+++++

“The world turned upside down. The world turned upside down,” The kids and I sing along to Hamilton as we color at the kitchen table. “The world turned upside down.”

“What’s this song about?” Caden asks me. His twin sister perks up to hear my answer to his question. (The two-year-old continues on his mission to break every crayon we own.) I pause. While we’ve been singing along to this soundtrack for months, this is the first time they’ve asked about it. Usually it’s enough for them thatMy Shot” makes an excellent dance tune.

“Well...” I fumble. I minored in history in college. My brain tumbles over facts and stories, but which ones are appropriate for preschoolers? “A long time ago, our country fought another country. They were kind of in charge of us but we didn’t think they treated us very nicely. So we fought them and, well, we won.” I’m not sure they even have any concept of what a country is yet.

“We won?” he asks, eyes brightening. This he understands.

“We did.”

“And the bad guys lost?”

“Well...they weren’t really bad. They just believed different things than we did. They weren’t bad people, we just didn’t feel like they were treating us fairly. So we fought for what we thought was right. And they fought for what they thought was right.”

I’ve lost him now, though. He goes back to coloring, now singing his own little song under his breath that talks about how “we won and the bad guys lost.” Well. I tried.

+++++

Continue reading how I’m working to teach my children about the shades of gray in the world over at SheLoves Magazine.





My Own Search for Sunday

The last day at our old church, not one month ago, I left the group of volunteers I led with these words from Rachel Held Evans’ blog:

“When writing about her troubled marriage, author Glennon Melton wisely avoids telling other women what to do, and instead puts the choice this way:

‘Does a Love Warrior Go? YES. If that’s what her deepest wisdom tells her to do. Does a Love Warrior Stay? YES. If that’s what her deepest wisdom tells her to do. Both roads are hard. And both roads can lead to redemption.’

The same is true for church. There is no single road to redemption.  And there is certainly not a straight one. As novelist Marilynne Robinson has said, ‘grace is not so poor a thing that it cannot present itself in any number of ways.’”

As excited as I was to find our new church, this volunteer position - these volunteers - were the reason I stayed for so long. I spoke these words with a slight catch in my voice as I told everyone I was leaving, that we had found a new church. These words helped reassure me, helped give me the strength to leave.

Just five days later, I learned that Rachel Held Evans was admitted to the hospital and had been put in a medically-induced coma.

This past Saturday, my social media feeds became plastered with her image after she passed away.

+++++

At our “old” (read: just two months ago) church, I was in charge of the 30 or so volunteers in the birth-Kindergarten children’s ministry area. I filled snack cups, checked nametags, paged parents, sent out reminder emails, and led huddle for our group, filling them in on announcements and coming up with some sort of inspiration for the hour.

The night before my last day, I sat with my laptop and a notebook, searching for the words to tell my group I was leaving. How did I tell them we’d found a different church? How did I tell them I just couldn’t stay here anymore? It didn’t take long for me to search Rachel Held Evans’ blog, to scroll through the archives and find the one titled “Life After Evangelicalism”. It was there I found her (and Glennon’s, and Marilynne’s) words to sum up my decision.

It was Rachel’s words I so often turned to when I couldn’t find words of my own. When my own brain was in tumult, she projected clarity. She was a writers’ writer and a thinker’s thinker; someone who could harness into words what felt trapped in my own head.

2019 05 09 Book 01.jpg

I’d read Searching for Sunday a couple years ago, about her own journey through and with and out of the evangelical church. Of course she had the words to sum up my decision to leave.

+++++

Maybe I should back up to the whole “we left our church and found a new one” part. It’s a decision that may seem sudden to those on the outside. To me, it’s a long-overdue change. It’s a decision I’ve been wrestling with for at least two years, if not longer. To say it has consumed my thoughts is an understatement.

It was a whole host of factors; far more than I can go into detail with here. It was the lack of acceptance of the LGBTQ community. It was not seeing women in the highest positions of leadership, or even quoted from the stage. Along those lines, it was the realization that the faith leaders I turned to (Glennon Doyle, Anne Lamott, Rob Bell, Jen Hatmaker, Richard Rohr) were never mentioned; it was always men (James Dobson, Henry Cloud, John Piper). It was never discussing social justice, or really anything out in the great, wide world outside the church walls. (Refugees? Immigrants? Hurricane victims? Anything? Nothing.) It was the fact that the messages had gotten so repetitive - literally the same exact stories repeated two, three, four times, so often I knew the punchlines and could repeat them myself - that I got virtually nothing out of going to church. And by the way, do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? (Yes. Next. Can we talk about something else, please?)

Then there was the 2016 election. To learn that over 80% of white, evangelical Christians in this country had deemed Donald Trump worthy of the presidency felt like the ultimate betrayal. To go to church and feel like a stranger. To feel like the church had completely abandoned everything I thought it stood for. To wonder where all the people were who felt the way I did - surely they were out there, weren’t they?

I talked it over with Tyson for more hours than either he or I can count. Bless him for listening to my constant dialogue of “do we stay or do we go”. I’d thought about and written out pros and cons lists over and over and over again.

I became hostile to church. Volunteering was the only thing I enjoyed anymore. More often we sat towards the back, me with my arms crossed, eyes narrowed, ready to pounce and critique anything and everything the pastor said.

I knew enough to realize this was an extremely unhealthy posture towards a church I tithed to, a church where I led other volunteers, a place I had called my own.

In March of this year, finally, I decided it was time.

“We have nothing going on this weekend. Let’s check out this other church,” I told Tyson. He was game, along for my existential faith-crisis journey. He was probably relieved.

So we did.

+++++

To walk into a new church (a UCC denomination) that first Sunday was a little like stepping into my past. It was much smaller, sure, but the pews, the hymnals, the altar were all familiar from my Catholic upbringing. I was hopeful but guarded, running through the checklist of requirements in my head.

The pastor kicked off with an announcement about helping the flood victims in Nebraska and Iowa. (Acknowledging the world outside this church: check.) He talked about caring for refugees and our broken immigration system in his sermon. (Social justice: check.) The Lord’s Prayer, printed in the bulletin, allowed us to call God a name of our own choosing, whether Father, Mother, or God. (LGBTQ/allowing for other genders: check.) The choir sang “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen. (Broadway music: BONUS!)

Tyson turned to me with a smile on his face when the service was over, “They couldn’t have put together a church service that would have resonated with you more.”

And just like that, we’d found our new church home.

+++++

This church change is now tangled up with Rachel Held Evans’ death in my head. Her death lends a sadness to this time, a time where I’ve been feeling alive again, energized (maybe like never before) by the church. I needed her words to transition me out of the evangelical church world. I needed her encouragement - her own “searching for Sunday” journey to help me along in my own.

(Of note: the pastor at my new church acknowledged her death this past weekend. I’m certain our old church did not.)

Rachel Held Evans ended her post, “Life After Evangelicalism”, with these words:

“You are not alone.

There is life after this. There is faith after this.

Hold on.”

That seems as good a way as any to close out my tangled emotions on her death and our own church change.

There is life after this. There is faith after this. Amen.

I Don't Know How You Do It

I pulled up and parked in my favorite lot: the side mall entrance. There were usually plenty of spots available, especially mid-afternoon on a Tuesday. A couple of afternoons a month I would take the twins, then babies, to the mall to walk around. If I timed nursing just right I would have about an hour and a half to spend there. Fifteen minutes there and fifteen minutes back meant I would return home in time to nurse them again. (Because nursing twins in public is a whole other level of stress, y’all.)

The mall was the perfect spot to stretch my legs while I pushed the stroller, especially with the chilly spring weather outside. I liked to look at the sale racks at JCrew and Banana Republic, though we didn’t really have the money to buy anything. Instead, I’d treat myself to a consolation pretzel (cinnamon sugar) and lemonade from Auntie Anne’s, then sit on a bench and hope the babies wouldn’t cry because we’d stopped moving.

On this particular Tuesday, I hauled the frame for the double stroller out of the trunk of our Prius, released one carseat and strapped it in, then another. I threw the overstuffed diaper bag over my shoulder and headed to the entrance, pushing the handicap button to let us in.

Nothing happened.

I pushed it again, harder this time. And again, at a slightly different angle.

The door didn’t budge. I stared at the door to the mall entrance, now my enemy. I shoved the diaper bag higher up on my shoulder and pulled the door open, balancing it with my legs splayed while I pulled the double stroller inside. Once in the vestibule I pushed the button for the interior door. It didn’t move, either. I glared at the second door. We were basically trapped since the in-line double-stroller took up the entire entry from door to door. I sucked in my stomach, moved around the stroller as best I could, and managed to open the door a few inches before it hit a stroller wheel. I scooched and inched my way in, wiggling first the stroller, then the door, until we made it inside.

I pushed my hair out of my face and looked around at the bright lights inside the department store as I caught my breath. My enthusiasm for this outing had waned during the whole door debacle. I was startled when I realized a woman stood next to the rack of shirts beside us, staring down and smiling at me and the babies.

“Twins?” she asked sweetly, “I don’t know how you do it!”

Well, I thought, I sure could’ve used a hand with the door. Had she been there the whole time? I felt annoyed at her, at the malfunctioning doors, at the fact that no one had come to my rescue. Bothered that she probably wanted to stop and coo at the babies, taking up my precious non-nursing time.

I’m sure I gave her a faint smile, though I know I had absolutely no response. I heard this often. And every time the answer that popped into my head was because I have to.

+++++

"So what's it like to have twins?" is something I’ve been asked dozens of times. It’s diminished over the years, after we added a third to the mix and I was no longer accompanied everywhere by two babies in carseats. More often now I’m asked if my kids are triplets.

I never knew how to answer the question. What is life with twins like? I have no idea. Exhausting, I guess? I might as well ask you what life with one baby is like since that’s something I’ve never known. The concept of one baby is as foreign to me as multiples is to everyone else.

I would usually shrug, give a little laugh, and say something like, "Well, it's all we've ever known!" Or, the ever-vague answer of “busy!” Which was true, if not detailed.

However the conversation went, it was often followed up with the whole “I don’t know how you do it!” thing. I got it from everyone: grandparents, baristas, friends’ spouses. I never knew what to say to this, either.

And maybe I never needed to say anything. Maybe my postpartum hormones were working in overdrive while my sleep-deprived brain tried to make sense of the process of engaging in adult conversation. But every time I heard, “I don’t know how you do it!”, it bothered me. It implied I had a choice.

+++++

And what choice did I have? Quitting my job was non-negotiable, for starters. There was no money to put two babies into daycare when the cost of daycare would have eaten up my entire paycheck. Then there was the state of my mental health - I couldn’t wrap my head around working all day and coming home to (literally) take care of two babies all night. When you factored in the cost of formula, disposable diapers, take-out, and the value of both Tyson’s and my mental stability, the decision was clear.

At night when one woke up to nurse, so did the other. Neither Tyson or I had a choice then. He would rock a baby while I nursed the second. We were the definition of two ships passing in the night while we wore a path in the upstairs carpet, each walking back and forth with a fussy baby, sometimes for hours at a time. While friends of ours bemoaned having to trade shifts at night and couldn’t get more than a three-hour stretch of sleep with their one baby, I bit my tongue. The idea of “shifts” didn’t exist in our house. If one was up, everyone was up.

After the very early days of pure survival, I began to leave the apartment again. By the time they were three months old, this was a necessity. I couldn’t breathe in our tiny space day after day. “I don’t know how you do it!” people would say when I showed up to a social outing with two babies in tow. Do you really expect me to stay home all the time? I would think.

+++++

Lest I sound ungrateful, I do realize this was intended as a compliment. It just always seemed so vague. “You’re such a good mom to those babies!” would have been more helpful - at the very least it would have been an easier compliment to respond with a smile and a “thank you”.

The thing was, I didn’t really want people to say anything to me when I was out with the twins. Anytime I was stopped I could only think this person was taking up the precious little time I had without a baby attached to my breast. What I wanted more than anything was help. I craved acknowledgement, to be seen. For people to understand that this was hard. That’s what they were saying to me after all. “I don’t know how you do it...because it’s so hard” is what was implied each and every time.

2016 08 09 All Me Target 01.jpg

But I didn’t want them to wonder how I did it. I wanted them to let me go ahead of them in the checkout line. I wanted them to ask how they could help, not just wonder aloud at how hard my life must be with two small babies to care for.

I didn’t want them to wonder how I was able to nurse two babies. I wanted them to entertain one while I nursed their sibling at the library.

I didn’t want my friends to wonder how I got out the door for a playdate. I wanted them to pick up an iced vanilla latte for me on the way.

I didn’t want a stranger to marvel at my ability to get through the door. I wanted them to hold the damn door.

+++++

Hearing “I don’t know how you do it,” taught me what I actually needed - what any mother needs in a difficult stage in her life.

She needs someone to give her a gift card for coffee when the toddler melts down in the middle of aisle 11.

She needs someone to watch her kids for a couple of hours so she can take a nap.

She needs someone to drop off dinner on Thursday evening, just because she’s a mom of young kids and it’s Thursday.

She needs someone to say “let me help you with that” while she loads bag after bag of groceries in the minivan while also herding small children to their carseats.

She needs someone to give her a nod and a smile, just a little bit of encouragement to get through the day.

She doesn’t need anyone to wonder how she does the work of nursing, changing diapers, sweeping up crumbs, tackling mountains of laundry, and getting up night after fussy night. We’re mothers.

It’s what we do.

+++++

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series on "Rewriting the Script."

What I See (Part II)

Thursday afternoon, we went to Nolan’s Early Childhood Screening appointment. I guess I’m not sure how this works in other states, but here in Minnesota, all children are screened at the age of three by their school district to prepare them for Kindergarten. They check vision and hearing, standard doctor appointment stuff, but also their verbal abilities, fine and gross motor skills, etc. The goal is to intervene and help kids as soon as possible - refer them to speech therapy or an appointment with an optometrist - to catch potential problems sooner rather than later.

I wondered as we drove if I should have rescheduled Nolan’s appointment. The twins had done theirs at his age, but they seemed more mature. Maybe I should have waited six months or so. He was smart but was he really ready? I thought of his energy, his defiance. Would he even answer the teacher’s questions? I prayed the next hour or so would go well. If nothing else, I figured we’d be directed to a therapist.

I sat in the hard, blue plastic chair across the room filling out paperwork as Nolan copied the teacher as she stacked blocks, drew a circle and some lines on a page. I listened as he quietly told her all about the yellow car she handed him with the red wheels that were circles and went vroom. My shoulders relaxed; it seemed to be going well.

It did go well. It went very well.

“He scored a 23,” the educator told me as we went over his score sheet afterward, “He only needed a 14 to pass. I’ve almost never seen a 3-year-1-monther do so well.”

I stared in disbelief at the paper, noted that he scored far past what he would have needed even six months from now.

“His cognitive abilities are impressive,” she told me, “He was able to do things even the four-year olds I see have trouble with. And he is very verbal.” (Yeah, tell me something I don’t know.)

+++++

The day before, Wednesday afternoon, I had knocked gently on Tyson’s office door. I try not to bother him during the day. I usually only knock on the door if I need to raid his office for a fresh roll of tape or some batteries.

He opened the door and I put my head on his chest and started crying. I could sense his surprise. (We can both probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve cried in our eight years of marriage.)

“I’m so...tired...of parenting Nolan,” I finally told him.

That morning Nolan had tried every single ounce of patience I had and even a couple extra ounces I didn’t even know were there.

“Nolan, don’t go in the sandbox right now, it’s too muddy,” I told him. About twelve times. (Along with a few other variations such as “Keep your feet on the sidewalk” and “Show me how you go down the slide instead.”)

“Leave the chalk in the bucket,” I told him. Only to find him a few minutes later sending stubby piece after stubby piece down the slide.

“Put the chalk back in the bucket please,” I said. He defiantly looked away. I touched his cheek to make him look at me. “I told you before not to take it out. Your consequence now is to pick it up.” It took a few minutes, but he did pick up a few pieces from the rainbow pile on the ground, now wet from the morning dew and still-melting snow. Half-heartedly. I found him eating pieces of chalk not long after.

These were not isolated incidents in an otherwise calm morning. This was all in the same eight-minute span. Previously he’d also waved a stick around and hit two people in the face, taken off both his shoes and socks at the park in the 42-degree weather (one landed in a puddle), and refused to throw his granola bar wrapper in the garbage at snacktime. As Mad-Eye Moody would say, the boy needs constant vigilence!

It wasn’t an unusual morning, either. It was just the latest in nearly three years of days that had gone just the same. Three years of attempting to balance his needs for high energy and high socialization without burning myself out in the process.

+++++

The drive home from the screening appointment was very different from the one there. I kept glancing back at him in my rearview mirror, his big, bright eyes searching the sky for airplanes as they so often do, munching on some bright orange crackers that were leftover from his earlier snack.

Who are you? I kept thinking. His score was high, higher even than Caden and Brooklyn’s when they completed their own screening just two years ago. I was just hoping you would pass and now I feel like my world is upside down.

It’s not that I didn’t think he was smart - he is. But Caden and Brooklyn’s high scores for the same screening weren’t a surprise for me. They’re the ones I’ve always been concerned with pushing academically. Nolan with all his energy — I’ve just been concerned with trying to keep him alive.

As I drove I thought of my prayer for him every night, Lord please just channel his energy into good, and I wondered at the blue-eyed boy in the backseat, babbling about PJ Masks and oblivious to all of my thoughts.

2019 04 04 Nolan Playtime 01.jpg

+++++

“So how’d it go?” Tyson asked as I made dinner that night.

I looked at him, wondering how to answer. “It went fine. He passed,” I finally said.

He sensed the hesitency in my voice, “Just barely?”

“Tyson, he more than passed. He scored even higher than Caden and Brooklyn did.”

“Oh,” Tyson’s eyes widened and he laughed, “I just hoped he would pass. Awesome!”

I smiled even as my mind continued to swirl, wondering what to do with my trouble-making, energetic, clever little boy.

+++++

Thursday night, I sat at my kitchen island and Googled what to do with him. I researched energetic three-year olds and smart three-year olds, and didn’t find much help. It’s not exactly like there’s advanced preschool. (Also felt like the world’s most obnoxious parent for Googling “gifted three-year olds”.) I read about engaging him in as many activities as possible, to give a direction to his energy and focus his high capacity for learning. This at least explained why he’d excelled in dance class all year.

It also gave credit to the theory I’ve had in my head for awhile, that he was smart but bored, and his energy and constant search for attention was the outward manifestation of the intelligence buried inside.

I rubbed my forehead as I searched for programs and activities - anything -  for three-year olds which were either a.) nonexistent or b.) combined with the two-year olds. I sighed and gave up for the evening, relieved that I had at least signed up him for three mornings of preschool in the fall.

+++++

Over a week later and I’m still thinking about that screening appointment, still feel a little as though my world has been turned upside down. I’ve told some relatives and friends how well his screening went and have mostly been met with the response, “Yeah that doesn’t surprise me”. Maybe because they’re further removed from the day-to-day challenges than I am, of parenting a little someone with such boundless energy.

I feel the weight of the responsibility - even more than before - to watch over him, push him, protect him. To work even harder to engage and advocate for him. If I can help him channel his energy now, guide him, direct him, parent him, love him. If I can find him the right activities, teachers, coaches, so that he can thrive.

He burns so brightly already. I want him to shine. I want everyone to see just what he can do.

+++++

Tyson has been playing a game with Nolan lately, taking inspiration from the book Dear Zoo.

“First God sent me an Emily,” Tyson tells him, “But I didn’t want an Emily. So I sent her back.”

“Then God sent me a Logan,” Tyson continues, “But I didn’t want a Logan. So I sent him back.”

Tyson continues on, listing off the names of Nolan’s friends and sending them back. Nolan’s smile grows bigger every time.

“Then God thought really hard and he sent me a Nolan,” Tyson finally says, “And he was perfect. I kept him”

Perfect. We’re keeping him. I’m going to watch him climb some more.

Ordinary Hard

I pulled my phone out of my pocket to check the time during open gym last Friday. 10:45. How could we possibly still have 30 minutes left before we had to leave to pick up the twins from preschool? My three-year old and I had arrived to open gym later than usual (because we had to make a Target run, obviously) and to have 30 whole more minutes just didn’t seem possible.

I looked at my phone again fifteen minutes later. Except it wasn’t fifteen minutes later. It had only been two. I looked at the clock on the wall, convinced my (*ahem* brand new) phone had stopped working, and resisted the urge to throw my (still new) phone to the floor. I resigned myself to twenty-eight more long minutes of chasing around my energetic boy.

This was also the second Friday of the week. I mean, it obviously wasn’t, but it sure felt that way. I had been convinced all day on Wednesday that it was actually Friday. Every time I remembered it was really only Wednesday it felt like a fresh insult all over again. How dare you, Wednesday? Why did we still have two more entire days until it was Friday?

You might ask what was up with last week. I’m asking myself the same thing. There were no blizzards, storms, or other inclement weather. No one was sick. Our car didn’t break down and the washing machine and dishwasher were both fully functioning. In fact, last week, it was pretty nice out. We played outside at a few different parks. The sun was shining. My preschoolers had only one day of school instead of their normal three, but that really didn’t seem to throw a wrench in our plans all that much.

It was a pretty normal week. A week of being hard in all the ordinary ways.

2019 03 02 All Tea 03.jpg

Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog.