I Wanted More than Just Getting Along

Erin & Zach“Go to bed!”
“Talk quietly.”
“It’s late and your sister has school in the morning!”
“I’m serious; you need to go to bed!”

Late night hushed voices and loud laughter have sent me upstairs to quiet these children of mine so many times over the years I’m sure I could not count the steps I’ve climbed or the times I’ve uttered the words above. But this weekend was different.

EastBlog 4.22.14er weekend brought Courtney home from college and the late night voices were floating through the house again. As they’ve gotten older, and these times when they are together are dwindling, I can feel the switch from mild irritation and concern for enough sleep, to a tender heart, grateful for these sibling relationships that are still being grown and nurtured.

Good sibling relationships were of high value to me from the very beginning. While growing up I dBlog 4.22.14 (2)idn’t feel intimately connected to my sisters or brother, and I had a longing for that to be different for my own kids. So I was shocked when toddler Courtney began knocking baby Zach over just as he was beginning to learn to sit up all by himself! That alone sent me to a parenting class to figure out what to do! As they got a little older I also found myself at a parenting workshop to learn what to do about sibling rivalry. I knew I needed to learn how to draw them to each other instead of me constantly separating them.

I’m no expert, but here are a few things I’ve learned along the way ~

When they are yoOn a tripung jealously can look a lot like mean. I learned that engaging Courtney in a level of care for Zach was part of the solution to her knocking him over. She was less likely to want to hurt the one she was caring for. This meant letting her feed him his dinner (which also meant being patient because this also meant the process was messier and took more time!) I also let her help me bathe him and assist wCourntey loved to read to Zachith a change a diaper here and there. The other part of the solution was making sure she and I got some alone time without the baby – she needed to be assured that she still had her very own place in my heart, independent of that new baby who seemed intent on sticking around!

I learned quickly (well, after the sibling rivalry workshop) that to encourage cooperative playtimes I needed to play with them or play a game with them so they would experience a fun time together. Once those feel good brain chemicals were off and running they had a much easier time transitioning to playing without me. The goal was for them to learn to lean on each other for fun; my job was to show them that was possible.

During this time period I would set the stage for a good time. Sometimes I was down for a tea party, but my kids  l o v e d  tea parties, and blog 7I just didn’t have it within me to attend each and every one. Plus – I wanted them to develop friendships with each other – independent of me. That meant I would set up tea parties for them, call them when it was ready and then exit the room. A big box arrived and the next day I gathered markers and crayons for them and left as they transformed that box into a car that carried them to grandma’s house 600 miles away! I also found a clean and organized playroom promoted play much more than the chaotic mess we sometimes left it in.

Trip to Grandma's (again!)As they got a little older and one of them was involved in a sport, school play, band or choir performance, we went as a family and we all encouraged, watched for, and applauded the one participating. (I believe that might seem more of a challenge today with smart phones and tablets at our disposal, it seems easier to hand the other kids devices to keep them quiet and occupied. But learning the life skill of waiting patiently and supporting your sibling – even at the cost of a little boredom is important to developing relationships. This also gives developing brains time to develop without constantly needing a ping.) We also always got ice-cream in celebration of the one who was in the play, band or choir concert – we would each let the star know just how great they had performed!

The other area that was vital to them developing their own relationships was (and is) learning to resolve their own conflicts. Let’s face it; no relationship is sustainableat the zoo if it collapses whenever problems arise. My oldest possessed natural abilities in this area so I’m not sure I can take a lot of credit. I remember one day when they were driving their cardboard car to grandma’s house, Zach wanted to take his big stuffed dog, Courtney said no and he walked away and said he wouldn’t play. She stepped back and I watched her consider and ponder, she really wanted him to play with her, so she sacrificed what she wanted to keep him engaged, the dog got stuffed in the car off they went on their adventure! (He was 2, she was 4 ½) It’s not easy to know how to navigate tricky conflicts but just being aware of the need to teach negotiation, taking turns, selflessness and asking “how can we solve this problem” may be helpful.

We’ve have had lots of people comment for many years on how well our kids get along, I promise you, we didn’t do it all rightJune 2012 and I’m certain we did plenty wrong. You don’t have to do what we did, you probably have some incredible ways you are developing your own children’s relationships (please share through comments!). But this weekend as I listened to our almost 22 year old sharNovember 2013e something important with her 19 year old brother, and as the almost 17 year old displayed her dismay when she discovered that while she was out with friends Saturday night the rest of us had gone out to dinner, as they laugh and play, and talk late into the night I thought it was time to share some of what we did to intentionally foster these friendships that just keep growing deeper.

Late Saturday night, upon hearing the hushed conversation, I climbed those stairs, though I had already given and gotten good night hugs. I sat on the bed opposite Zach playing together still (Dec. 2013)and Courtney and shared in a wee bit of the conversation, and then I gave one last hug and left the room as their conversation went on and on…independent of me, just like I hoped all those years ago.

Fatherhood sometimes means driving six hours for six minutes

I’ve been thinking about what to give to Kevin for Father’s Day ~ something meaningful, something that expresses what I great dad I think he is, something from the heart…

Dear Kevin,
Thank you for being the strongest dad there is ~ remember when Courtney believed you could lift up a house? Well, I still believe you can (and I bet deep down she does too.)

Thank you for taking Courtney, then Zach and now Erin to El Salvador for the last five years with Habitat for Humanity. You have shown them that they are strong enough to build a house! Thank for for showing them that all the many layers of comfort of our life in suburbia sometimes keeps us from what really matters in life. They have become world travelers, have stronger arms, softer souls, and more generous hearts because of your investment each year in this trip with them. You rock.

Thanks for driving six hours for six minutes. I will always remember the night Zach had a wrestling tournament and you were in Chicago for work. You drove three hours to get home, you watched his six minute match, and then drove three hours back to Chicago. I have a feeling your son will remember that the rest of his life. I know I will.

Thank you for having individual handshakes with each of our kids. That cracks me up and touches my heart each time I see that.

Thanks for being the dad who interviews the guys his teen daughters want to date. Though I’m not sure Courtney always appreciated it, I believe she did appreciate knowing – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that her dad valued her very, very much. I believe Erin likes that guys have to pass through her dad to get to her for a date! Thanks also for teaching Zach to respect and value girls – that being able to look a girl’s dad in the eye is imperative.

Thanks for being a man who has a well-ordered heart. You have God at the center, and your time, energy and focus flows from there. I love that you play bass guitar on the worship team at church, that you serve on leadership teams, that younger men seek you out for mentoring. You are a great example to our kids of a man who seeks to love and honor God.

Thank you for hanging out with YOUR dad when you were growing up. Because of how much you learned from him we all know you can fix ANYTHING, and we count on you for your unending skills! All these many years later, you are the dad who has kids who are learning from you! Though your dad isn’t here, his legacy passes through you.

Thank you for killing spiders, changing light bulbs, unclogging drains, carrying sleeping children to bed, and for cleaning up dog throw-up. Thanks for putting us first…always.

I love this photo of us from our 21st anniversary in 2011 - we look so good!

Thank you for loving me well ~ you have shown our boys how to one day treat a wife, and you have shown the girls what to expect from a husband.

Happy Father’s Day!
With love, gratitude and admiration,

Small things

Our shy little boy grew up, and last week graduated as a outgoing tall young man. I’m so proud of his hard, dedicated work all throughout his many years in school, but I am most happy about who he has become – apart from what he has done.

This morning he left for a week in Florida with another family, but evidence of who he is showed up at home as I went to get the mail just now. He had a goal of getting all his thank you notes written and in the mail before leaving for Florida; I saw him as he sat at the desk writing, and writing, and writing. He was so quick about getting the first batch of thank you notes in the mail that he forgot to put stamps on all of them! He left a note on the mailbox asking the mail lady to put them back in our box, and indeed she moved them from the dropbox to our box and they went out again the next day with stamps!

Today I opened the mailbox and saw two thank yous with no stamps and no addresses. It cracked me up ~ I thought to myself, he must have been very tired when he wrote these. I smiled and pulled them out of the box. But quickly, I saw he had forgotten nothing…these were put in the mailbox as is, on purpose, for Kevin and me, as well as Erin. He had forgotten nothing, and no one. Though we are his parents, he didn’t take for granted our gift, our time, our efforts.

Parenting ~ we parent to the big things in life, and to the little things. And sometimes it’s the little things that reveal that the big things are in place.

It Matters

To the moms giving little boys rides on your backs, and to the ones holding your little girl’s hand as she skips at your side, I see you. I see you as you bend low to patiently explain a mystery, and I see you walk slowly up the stairs while your little one navigates those oh so tall steps. I see you carrying wee ones in heavy carseats, with diaper bags slung over your shoulder, all while leaning to one side to keep hold of the tiny hand that belongs to the little walking beside you.

Today for some reason I am aware of what you may have set aside for this little one now at your side. You have given a portion of your life and dedicated it to wiping messy faces, holding sticky hands and kissing dirty knees. You have exchanged office mates for play dates, and power lunches for peanut butter and jelly with a side of Goldfish® crackers.

I want to tell you that it matters. It all matters. Every tender kiss, every look in the eye, every song sang, book read and “why” explained. You are laying down connection wires; you are building trust, showing love and teaching kindness. You are pouring yourself out to fill up this little vessel who will run on the foundation you lay. What you are doing…it matters.

The child we chose to bring into our family, the one we still trust God to graft into us – when he was a little, he didn’t receive the tenderness I see you give. His wires were not placed gently or properly, and these many years later as I see him still struggle so, well…I promise you, what you are doing…it matters.

If you ever question your value, if you ever wonder if what you do has meaning, please know that it does. From blowing belly kisses to rocking the child with a fever, from cuddling on the couch to providing snack for the class…every tender, gentle, patient, kind and loving moment matters very much.

An Update

It’s been three weeks since our new season began, and several of you have asked to keep you as updated as much as we feel we can during this season. Below is an update in a Q & A type format using the questions we have received over the past few weeks.

Do you get updates?
Yes, we receive weekly reports on school, house, special events and a counselor report. They took a day trip last weekend and six pictures were sent to us via email – he was in all of them. We also receive a weekly phone call from the counselor that meets with him. I’m happy with the level of communication we have received thus far.

Do you get to talk to him?
Although he hasn’t yet moved to the level of privileges that include receiving calls from us, he was allowed a 30 minute call on his birthday. It was good to hear his voice and I appreciated that I was able to ask him about things I had seen in the pictures, it made us feel a connection despite the distance. We also receive a weekly email from him and we can email him back weekly.

How is he doing?
It sounds like he is doing well academically, is learning Spanish, is going to church ~ he said it reminds him of our church here at home, which he likes. He described his daily routine, told us there is dog in the house in which he lives, and said he is working on his anger. He said he misses us, and told us he loved us too when we hung up. He is appearing to struggle in his new environment with the same things he struggled with here at home; we remain confident he is at the right place at the right time. 

How are you doing?
We are doing fine. The first week was really hard, lots of emotion. But peace has settled into our hearts and into our home. I began to realize last week that when you always feel a little (or a lot, depending on the day) stressed, you act, and react, from a more tightly wound place. I’m feeling more like myself, laughing more easily and appreciating the extra space in my thought life that isn’t being taken up with drama and chaos. The other day Kevin was going to look at cars and thought he would take Mister, but then realized he could not. Erin is appreciating the quiet in our home – but the other night thanked God for bringing Mister back to us and also thanked God for this new help that he is receiving. 

Can I send him a note or a package?
Some of you are very close to us (friends and family) and have established relationships with our son, but for now, we can send notes and packages, you cannot. Thank you for caring for him and for us, thank you for supporting him. Your best “note” right now would be your prayers delivered straight to the One who is looking over him while he is away.

Thank you for your encouraging words, prayers and support. We are a very blessed family.

A New Season

From the very first post of Mother of the WHAT?!  I said I would be authentic, in fact, the subtitle of this blog is True Tales of an Ordinary Mom. I’m here today to share the truth about something that has been a hard, but real part of our lives as parents. Last week we enrolled our youngest in a program  – away from us – where we believe he will get some additional help and guidance, some healing and direction, and some hope for his future.

I am sharing this for three reasons:

1)  I write here for others and in that writing, I share the truth – which is sometimes good, touching, funny, embarrassing, boring but sometimes hard, and sometimes – it leaves me vulnerable.

2)  Our child will likely be in this program for a year, I’m not going to pretend in my writing that he is here during this time when he is not.

3)  I am sharing because a decision like this doesn’t happen for most parents, but when it does, it feels heavy, and you feel alone, and sometimes a little defensive of your decision. It also might feel embarrassing or even humiliating, but I don’t believe it has to feel this way. So, if you are in a situation like this, or know of someone who is, let’s lift the veil and talk about it.

This wasn’t a decision we made lightly, I can’t imagine that anyone enters into a decision like this easily. There are some that will (and have) questioned our decision, and there will likely be some who talk behind our backs, but we invite those discussions or questions to come to us; we are confident in our decision, we are fighting for the heart of our child, and we are not ashamed of that.

Its been difficult for a very long time. As he gets older, the consequences for some of his choices are beginning to fall outside of our parenting. His past has tweaked the way he thinks and reacts, and we needed to get him more help than we are equipped to give him. But maybe, just maybe, we have been equipped…to release him…for this period.

This week I have cried, felt relief, had peace, cried some more, felt light, felt heavy, and been confident. But most of all, I have trusted in the Lord, that he who began a good work in this boy will continue to work to bring it to completion…

I am encouraged by this season. It will look different, it will feel different, and I have a belief that ultimately it will be refreshing and beautiful for each of us.

I wrote over at Moms.FortWayne.com about this as well…you can read that here.

Leaving the Nest

A mother, looking for a safe place to birth and raise her young ones, chose my front porch. She chose well, it was out of the rain, and as a fellow mom, I was careful to not soak her nest when I watered this plant, which suddenly also served as a home.

Then one day, and for four days, the mother laid an egg; four beautiful, small, vulnerable lives, contained in precious, fragile shells. The day the babies were making their way out of their eggs, our family did our best to come and go through the garage, ensuring that the mother could just sit on the nest to keep her little ones warm (moms look out for each other like that).

We adored watching them, they were so ugly that they were cute. There came a day when we began to hear their teeny-tiny tweets, clamoring for their food each time their mother returned to the nest. It made me think of our little ones when we have been gone for awhile. My little ones would come running to the door ready to see if I had something for them, or to tell me of some adventure (or some perceived injustice) while I was away!

Quickly the little uglies were trading their wrinkly, downy skin for real feathers. They filled out and seemed more crowded in the nest. Before we knew it, they began perching on the edge of their home. I’ll never forget watching that first one leave the nest…

Courtney was all packed up and we were loading the car to make the return trip to college for her junior year when it happened. We had just walked outside and I was locking the door when we saw one of the baby birds perched on the edge of the nest. We stopped and watched as it just sat there, and then suddenly ~ it flew away!

“Ohhhhh wait! Are you ready? Don’t fall! Where are you going?!” All things that went through my mind and even were uttered from my lips as my daughter, ready to go herself, and I, watched this bird leave the nest. We looked at each other taking in what we just saw – the obvious significance of the moment not lost on either of us.

We watched the little one fly higher and higher and eventually find a tree. We saw and heard the mom calling to it from the roof next door. I imagine the mom was tweeting “Good job! Look how strong and beautiful you are! I’m so proud of you!”

It’s funny…several years ago, when my friend Barb’s oldest daughter, Alexandria, left the nest, I sent Barb a little bird and enclosed a letter. In the letter I told my friend what a great mom she was and how she (and her husband) had provided such a strong and stable nest for her little ones, that she could be confident as Alexandria left. I was indeed confident that Alexandria would be secure and strong and ready to enter the world, taking with her all the tools, values, lessons and love that had been given her while in the nest. When Courtney left for college two years ago, I received a similar letter from Barb with a different little bird in a nest.

Now on the sidewalk, Courtney and I stood and watched together, with awe and a little anxiousness, as a real bird, left a real nest to make its own way in the real world. Then ~ I drove her to her new apartment at college. As my own little one has left the nest for another year of school, I will be confident (as I told Barb to be) that we have taught her what she needs to know to fly and find her way – and I say to her even now ~ “Good job, Courtney! Look how strong and beautiful you are! I’m so proud of you!”

How to have a Hard Conversation

Hard conversations are exactly that – hard. I don’t know anybody who likes initiating or being invited to one…but sometimes they are necessary. If you haven’t had to have a hard conversation than it might be time to question if you’re really in authentic relationships where deep care and concern are a part of the bond. (By the way, if you’re a parent, hard conversations are in the job description.)

I didn’t always have hard conversations, what I used to have were more like reactions, or even eruptions, especially in my role as a mom, and early in my role as a wife. But those kinds of responses didn’t get me anywhere. Well, actually they did…they got me pushed away, I got walls put up in front of me, and I lost my ability to speak into or influence the situation because no one was really listening.

Below are a few things I have learned about having hard conversations ~

1) Don’t react.
A few years ago while away at college my daughter called and began the conversation with this “I have to tell you something and don’t freak out.” So I took a deep breath, sat down and listened. (A practiced response from this mom!) I’ve learned that saying something along the lines of “I need to think about that, process that, or pray about that” are all phrases that allow me to say something in the moment without reacting.

2) Take time to process.
Simply taking a day to think, feel, and think some more about the situation helps.

3) Write down your thoughts.
As I process a situation, I write down my thoughts in a simple bullet type format. This seems to allow some of the deeper thoughts to come forward as some of the more obvious ones move from my head to the paper.

4) Give it a day…or two…or three.
Ever had a conversation reaction right in the moment and then came back a few minutes later and said, “Oh yeah, and one more thing…”? And then came back even the next day and said something along the lines of “Also, I forgot to mention this…..”  I have. It’s not very gratifying to get it ALL off your chest when the other person is rolling their eyes! Taking a day, or two, or even three grants me time to gather ALL my thoughts, write them down and get some order to the strong emotions that occasionally make rational thoughts, words and tones disappear.

5) Pray.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways. Isaiah 55:8
Taking time to pray helps to bring clarity to the heart, or root, of the situation. This helps me drop the spotlight on just the one situation and illuminate the bigger picture. It also gives time for God to reveal what fears I might be experiencing that are displaying themselves in emotions. It allows the Holy Spirit time to show me something I might be missing, reveal truth and grant me grace

6) Bring your thoughts on paper when it’s time to have the hard conversation.
The first time I did this was many years ago on day three of an argument with my husband. I had sought counsel on day two from a wise, more experienced friend and she helped me understand my part in the problem. Though I wasn’t looking to understand how I was contributing to the problem, she cared enough to have a hard conversation with me. She explained the areas in which I was wrong and that I needed to apologize. (WHAT??!!) I prayed about it that afternoon and that evening I approached my husband, unfortunately I blew it. Scattered thoughts and still strong emotions got the best of me (or the worst of me!) and I began arguing with him again (go back and see point 4).

I called my friend again the next day, but this time I wrote down what she said. I prayed about it again and when I approached Kevin once more, I had my points written down and in my hand. The list of what to cover kept my thoughts together, my words focused and my emotions contained. It felt a little awkward to have a script for the conversation with my husband, but in the end there were no raised voices and that argument finally came to a close.

I do this all the time now. When I have a hard conversation, I’m always working from a list, either in my head or in my hand. When it’s with one of my kids, I remind them that when they see I have the paper it shouldn’t scare them, it should comfort them – they know I have thought about this conversation and that I won’t go on, and on, and on, or come back to them over and over adding one more thing. When it’s over, it’s over.

I still don’t like hard conversations, although I’m better at them and more confident now when I enter them. And although I’m not a fan of being on the receiving end of one of these conversations (my still heart races with my natural feeling of defensiveness), here’s the truth ~ I’ve learned much and grown the most when someone cared enough about me to have a hard conversation.

Trustworthy are the bruises of a friend; excessive are the kisses of an enemy.
Proverbs 27:6