The Gift of Perspective

j0438992As weeks go, it was not exactly the stuff memories are made of — not good ones anyway. In our extended family, one was diagnosed with prostate cancer, another had a gall bladder removed, a third was hospitalized a second time for serious mental health issues. The school called, reporting an incident with one of the kids. On Valentine’s Day, my husband went to have a suspicious growth removed. Plus there was the whole matter of the relentless white stuff that God kept pelting down from heaven like some cosmic snowball fight he was determined to win. Oh, and our ceiling is leaking from our (second floor) bedroom to our (first floor) kitchen. If I’d lit a candle for every intention, I would have set the church ablaze. Yes, one of those weeks.

But as I sat down to lunch with a friend yesterday, she looked at me and said, “I can tell life is good for you right now. You are glowing with happiness.”

The funny thing is … I feel happy. My life is infinitely better than it was this time last year. Sure, we have to move (again) in two months … but it’s to a job I love, to work with people who give me freedom to do my best work, and trust me to do it well. Yes, my child had a problem at school … but both my kids are HOME, and I get to tuck them into bed at night. Yes, our heating bills have been more than $800/month for the past two months … but we have been able to put food on the table, even so.

The sick relatives are a bit tougher. It’s always hard when a family member is hurting at a distance. It’s natural to want to lift their burden, or at least carry part of it for them. More than anything, you want to do more than pray.

But sometimes … sometimes trusting God is the only thing to do. When we open our hands and offer our burden back to God, we become conduits of grace to bring about God’s will in this world. And that is no small thing.

So, go ahead. Light that candle. Pick up that rosary. Breathe deeply, and speak aloud your intention not to let worry and fear prevent you from trusting the Creator of all things good. Ask God for the gift of perspective, that knows our heavenly Father does not leave his children burdened by life to their own devices. Rather, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “He shouts to us in our pain,” making us stronger and more compassionate, better able to recognize and respond to the hurting world around us.

At some moment of our lives, each of us is called to live in the Pascal Mystery. Is God calling you to carry your own cross, in the footsteps of Christ? Or is he asking you to follow at a distance, like the Blessed Mother? Both are needed, but you will only have grace enough for one.

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 29: “Yes” is a Powerful Word

water_security“Yes” is a powerful word.
Yell it or tell it or
speak it real soft.
Cry or create it or
raise it aloft.
Sing it, and bring it
alive when you’re lost.
Yes, “yes” is a powerful word.

“Try” is a weakening word.
Tentative tendrils of
uncertainty.
Like shimmering shells
‘neath a thundering sea.
I don’t recognize her,
this shadow of me …
For “try” is a weakening word.

And “space” is a magical word.
A silent expanse of
promise glides by.
Pushing aside every thought,
terrified. Amplified.
Till hope finds a home,
and expands on its own.
Says, “Absolutely. Yes.”

Maybe.

What is your powerful word?

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 28: X-amine Priorities Through a Child’s Eyes

cuddle“Mommy, will you play with me?”

“Mommy, can you rub-tickle my arm?”

“Mommy, I wanna snuggle…”

I imagined that by the time my children reached middle school, they would stop seeking my company quite so actively. When I was in seventh grade, I used to climb out on the roof outside my bedroom window to escape my mother. Outside, with the biggest book I could find — usually a Reader’s Digest Condensed. My parents had a whole shelf full of the things. I’d start at one end, and work my way to the other side.

Looking back, I probably should have asked my mom to take me to the library. We didn’t have a television, and only the Christian radio station was allowed. So books were my escape.

For reasons I don’t entirely understand, my kids don’t like to read. I’ve tried all the usual things: reading aloud, and offering a variety of books, and getting them books on tape. No dice. And I’m not entirely sure why.

Is it possible that a love of reading is genetic, rather than environmental?

No, when my kids are stressed out, they want … Contact. Close physical proximity for as long as I will let them. Like junkies looking for a fix, they sidle up beside me, and nudge my arm until I lift it over their shoulders. Sarah bounces against my “air bags” (as she calls them) contentedly, while Chris simply leans against my shoulder, pulling the closest soft blanket over us all. Even in church (then it’s without the blanket), they lean in purposefully.

Sometimes I enjoy it. I mean, what mom wouldn’t relish the feeling of being their child’s whole world? Other times, it can get a little claustrophobic. Like they don’t stop until they’ve drained the last drop of attention. Still others, I wonder if I’m feeding a monster, if I would be doing them a kindness by weaning them from the constant need to touch, clutch, and snuggle.

But then … I have to examine things from their eyes. All the change, all the fear, all the loss, all the feelings … it has to go somewhere. it has to diffuse somehow. And mom is the rock that makes them roll.

And when my life is stressed, from all the change, and the fear, and the loss, and the feelings that threaten to swallow me whole, sometimes it helps to find a place to cuddle, snuggle underneath a soft, fleecy blanket.

They may not be readers … but they’re pretty smart.

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 16: Live and Let Live

monster momOver at “4 Moms,” Beth-Anne Jones writes about “discretionary burdens,” the self-imposed expectations we put on ourselves that result in our running a round the house screeching like a fishwife, eyes bugged out and children running scared. “All right, you sneaky little rug rats. WHO ate the M&Ms I left on the counter to make the eyes on the triple-decker reindeer cookies I was making for your class party tomorrow?!??!”

Sure, I could have whipped out the Pillsbury version in a snap, but Noooooo. I have to do my own personal version of “Cupcake Wars.” But with seasonal cookies. (And the fact that I don’t have a picture here should tell you something about how they turned out.)gingerbread-village

Today’s de-stress tip acknowledges that there are two kinds of stress: The kind we receive from the universe (“MOM! I need 27 cupcakes for our class party tomorrow.”), and the kind we impose on ourselves and others. (“Oh, my goodness. I have to come up with something that will top the gingerbread village I made for Sarah’s teacher last year, or this teacher will think I’m a slacker.”)

No, she won’t. Get out the Pillsbury dough, and she’ll be thankful she won’t have to deal with the Supersized sugar buzz like last year’s teacher.

Recently, thanks to Christopher’s current teacher, it also struck me that I need to lighten up on the expectations I put on my kids sometimes, too. For example, when your eighth-grader curls up in the fetal position when you log on to “Study Island,” that might be a sign that he needs to go outside and romp with the dog for a few minutes instead of logging on yet another hour of math fact fun. Yes, he needs to catch up to his peers. But does he have to do it today? Of course not.

Live . . . and let live. Discipline, tempered with mercy. For yourself. For your kids. For life.

What “discretionary burdens” give you trouble?

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 15: Kiss Me!

ballroom image“Mom! I need my love banks filled!”

The declaration is never entirely unexpected; I can usually read the symptoms: Grumpy, Snarky, Snippy, and all the other objectionable little dwarves take up residence, and the only thing that will drive them out of my kids is a systematic foot massage with corresponding breaks for butterfly kisses, “face tracing,” back rubs, and silly songs.

The truth is, the kids aren’t the only ones with love banks in need of filling. The dwarves come to visit when the adults in our house don’t get the recommended dosage of TLC. When we first met, my husband and I belonged to the University of Michigan Ballroom Dance Club. Every Sunday night he would twirl me around the dance floor in waltz, salsa, West Coast Swing, or cha-cha.

That was fifteen years ago. Swing Girl is pretty much all swung out . . . so is Swing Guy. But Flirt Girl is alive and well, and sometimes what her “love banks” need most is … “Kiss me!”

Not wining and dining. Not a chick flick marathon. Nothing strenuous. Just a cuddle and a twirl. And, yes, That Kiss.

My favorite kind of de-stressing.

#lovebanks

 

“Mothering Without a Map”: A Book Whisperer Review

Book WhispererEven those who have a great relationship with their own mothers can appreciate how the mother-daughter bond colors the way they parent their own children. Suddenly and without warning, we begin channeling our own childhood soundtrack in recipes, songs, and other traditions — for better or worse (“Because I SAID so…”).

In Mothering Without a Map: The Search for the Good Mother Within, journalist Kathryn Black recounts the experiences of dozens of women who struggle to become the best version of themselves as they take on the life-changing challenge of motherhood.

motheringRaised by her grandmother after her own mother’s death, Black writes about the loss of mothers in her chapter entitled “Ghosts.” Having two children who experienced the trauma and loss of their first mother, the subject of attachment — how they attach to us, their adoptive parents, and we to them — is an ongoing topic of interest. In MWAM, Black references the research of psychologist Mary Main, who identifies attachment “types” in order to address the ways adults pass along their childhood experiences (including traumas) onto their own children through dismissiveness, preoccupation, or secure autonomy.

“Other researchers found that being able to reflect clearly on [how they treat their own children] wasn’t related to personality, self-esteem, intelligence, education or other social, economic, or demographic factors. What distinguishes the autonomous adults is that they understand themselves and others and can relate a coherent narrative about their pasts.”

If you’ve ever wondered if unresolved issues with your own mother is having a negative affect on your ability to connect with your own children, this book might help you to identify those areas in need of healing. Although the author does not address the need for forgiveness from an explicitly Christian perspective, she does offer the reassurance that “one doesn’t have to have had a good mother to become one,” and how even “wounded daughters” can indeed become “healing mothers.”

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 8: Choose Contentment

sarah 2006One of the best things about being a blogger is being able to go back several years and read with a degree of amused detachment what my life was like … oh, about seven years ago.

School starts up again next week, and not a moment too soon. Take today, for instance. I spent the morning with Sarah, scrubbing toothpaste off the carpet and walls (don’t ask). Shortly after lunch, I was loading the dishwasher when a commotion started in the bathroom. Someone had decided to see how far a glass of water would spread on the bathroom floor. To make the game a little more fun, they added a liberal dash of red food coloring to the cup. Then they frantically emptied the dryer (whites, of course) to cover up the mess.

Long story short, everything we own is now pink.

Clearly, the kids needed a little physical activity, so we went outside for a quick dip in the pool. Sarah began to shiver, so when they were both safely out of the pool I ran to get a large towel … and stepped on an inch-long piece of glass. Someone had dropped my candy thermometer, and decided not to tell me about it. I lifted the offended foot to assess the damage … and promptly injured the other foot on another shard.

That did it. After bleeding all over the house on my way to find a suitable bandage, I picked up the phone and called my darling husband, the one person in the world I can always count on for kindness and concern. His response to my request that he come home ASAP? “Gee, honey. Urgent care is a bit expensive … do you think you can hold out until tomorrow, and see your regular doctor for the tetanus shot?”

Yes, folks, I’m ready to turn in my “Mom” badge.

Okay, Heidi. Breathe. That’s what I want to tell the old me. Just wait … you will have bigger messes to clean up, and if you lose your sense of humor now, you won’t have it when you really need it. Now, go bandage up your foot and make another dino jungle on “Painter” with your artistically inclined five-year-old. You’ll be glad you did.

In one of my all-time favorite books, Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegone Days, the author observes, “Some luck lies not in getting what you thought you wanted, but in wanting what you have. Which, if you are smart enough, you will discover it is what you would have wanted all along, if you had only known.”

Contentment is the half-sibling of her cheery sister thankfulness. On the bleakest days, when “thankful” is too much to muster, “contentment” can be more manageable — in any circumstances. Hands open, rather than clenched.

Try this little exercise the next time you feel you’re losing equilibrium — such as when your little darling dumps the red sock in the whites. Gently place your hands on his face, cupping his cheeks in your hands (again, gently), and say quietly, “It won’t always be like this. What are you trying to teach me here, God? I choose in this moment to look for you.”

The Book Whisperer: “Parenting from the Inside Out”

Book WhispererHappy New Year!

Each time I make something for dinner that one or both the children don’t like, the familiar refrain resounds: “Tell us the story of the baked beans!”

When I was about six or seven, my mother made homemade baked beans for dinner, which I refused to eat. After an hour of watching me poke at my plate, my mother said to me, “You may be excused, Heidi. Maybe you’ll eat a good breakfast.”

The next morning, I ran down to the kitchen expecting to find a steaming plate of oatmeal or scrambled eggs … and found instead the baked beans. Again I refused to eat them, and went hungry until lunchtime. That night for dinner I was given beans a third time, and I ate them — reluctantly — only when my father informed me that I would get the beans the next morning in my oatmeal. (This story is always met with a resounding Y-u-u-u-c-k!)

So when the kids balk at eating dinner, all I have to say is, “So… you want that in your oatmeal tomorrow?” Problem solved.

Long before we become parents, we form impressions of what constitutes a “good parent” from the adults in our lives. Our own parents, for better or worse, provided our first model; other cues came from friends and extended family members.

* The aunt who consistently gave up a career in nursing in order to tend to her growing family and bedridden mother-in-law.

* The neighbor who allowed her daughter use mascara in eighth grade to cover up the fact that her lashes were blonde in one eye and brown in the other.

* The church friend who invited every new family at church for “impromptu” dinners of chicken parmesan.

Sometimes these models were not so heart-warming: the parent who drank or spanked excessively, who exaggerated her children’s misbehavior to win sympathy but refused to come clean with her own dark deeds, who yelled at the kids for making noise while he watched T.V. instead of turning off the set and engaging them in conversation. And all too often, these children grow up and find themselves saying and doing the same things with their own children, despite their firm intention never to repeat the same mistakes.

So what is a parent to do?

In Parenting from the Inside Out, Dr. Daniel J. Siegel and Mary Hartzell explore “the extent to which our childhood experiences shape the way we parent …. and offer parents a step-by-step approach to forming a deeper understanding of their own life stories that will help them raise compassionate and resilient children.” The authors help parents to identify the “toxic ruptures” in the relationship between parent and child, and the interactive dialogue that must occur in order to repair the damage. Each chapter includes “inside-out exercises” to help the reader apply the lessons of their own lives in order to strength the parent-child bond.

During the month of January, I’ll be reviewing parenting resources. If you have a good book to recommend,write to me at Heidi(dot)hess(dot)saxton(at)gmail(dot)com.

On Arriving: Thoughts before Christmas

cropped-road-trip.jpg Two days in the car with two kids and a dog. Two days, twelve hours a day.

Suddenly I have a whole new appreciation for what Mary and Joseph must have gone through those final days before the angels sang to the shepherds.

Mary: “Please, honey. Lay off the Diet Coke. My legs are cramping from riding on this blessed donkey, and my ankles are swelling to the size of small watermelons. It’s Bethlehem or bust. NO MORE PIT STOPS!”

Joseph: “Yes, dear. I’ll let my throat parch if you can talk that kid on the next camel into stop whistling that inane tune: ‘100 wineskins of wine on the wall.’ Honestly, one more round and I may have to toss him to the robbers.”

OK, so the Holy Family didn’t have this exchange exactly. After all, they were the perfect couple — the kind that radiated in each other’s sunshine. I’ll bet Joseph never drove Mary crazy by loading up on electronics until the camel blew a fuse, and he never rolled his eyes when Mary couldn’t resist one more cute little trinket from Matzo Barrel.

Our family is not so perfect. We do not practice the virtue of detachment when we travel . . . The other virtues like kindness, neatness, and sweetness get quite a workout as well. And yet, these trips are the stuff of our family history. Years later, the memories are whitewashed and recalled– like the new mother, we forget all about the pain once we hold our loved ones in our arms. (Probably better that way, or there would be no more road trips.)

Halfway through ours, I’d simply like to give thanks for the highlights:

* For parents who are always happy to see us at the end of the road, no matter how late we arrive or how disheveled the house is when we leave.

* For a seven-passenger van, so that the person most in need of solitude can hide in the back seat with a Supersized set of headphones.

* For two kids and a dog who can ride for four days in a car without anyone getting carsick. Even when Sarah bathes in the Justin Bieber perfume Michi’s friend gave her for Christmas (thanks, Matthew).

* For traveling mercies — including the angels that sat on our bumper yesterday, so the Budget truck that swerved into our lane did not hit us (and the SUV in Michi’s blind spot in the next lane sustained only a small dent). It could have been much, much worse.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Mommy Love: Guest Post from Sarah Reinhard (The Love Project, Day 11)

Sarah ReinhardToday’s guest post is from one of my favorite “mommy bloggers,” Sarah Reinhard, who is also celebrating her birthday today — happy day, sweetie! And thanks for sharing a snippet from your newest brainchild — a wonderful resource for pregnant moms.

I had a few years of enjoying young children in the form of younger siblings and nieces and nephews before I was married and started having my own. I thought I was ready for the reality of children saying the darndest things.

Nothing, though, could have prepared me for the hilarity—and heartbreak—I have experienced as a mom. From my children’s mouths I’ve heard tender expressions of love but also explosions of anger. They’ve made observations that have lifted my spirits and others that have cut me to the quick.

When Mary and Joseph find Jesus after three days of searching for him (see Lk 2:42–51), they must have had some heat in their words to him. Maybe I’m projecting a bit, but maybe worry is, to some extent, a natural reaction of parents to the experience of losing a child in a crowd or a store.

What I learn from this mystery is how the story continues with him going home and being obedient, even in the face of what seems to be a smart-aleck remark from Jesus—”Didn’t you know where I’d be?” This seems like it would be a prime time to uphold parental authority, but in the silence, I find a lesson in humility.

Jesus was in the Temple all along, though his parents didn’t know it and had to search for him. Their inability to find him didn’t change where he was the entire time.

In the Temple, Jesus was listening and asking questions much like a typical twelve-year-old. Yet he was anything but typical. I find comfort, though, in the idea that he wasn’t born with all the knowledge he needed. In this way, his humanity is expressed in this mystery, as is the quandary of his parents: do they punish him after this or are they so glad to find him that they just let him off the hook?

In this mystery, we can find ourselves at Jesus’s feet, asking for the guidance to be the kind of parent he’s calling us to be. Though it’s early in the journey of parenting this particular child, we don’t have to wait to ask to be able to cooperate with the graces God sends our way in our parenting journey.

This excerpt is from A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism, by Sarah Reinhard and is used with the author’s permission. Find out more about Sarah and her writing at SnoringScholar.com.