Tuesday, October 21, 2014

that imaginary t-shirt

It's silly but true...one of my life's passions is our state fair. The fairgrounds closed not even two months ago and already, I'm itching for August. I can't get enough of the sticky, greasy, sugary, spicy, frosty, salty foods. I love the rickety, loosely bolted rides. I savor the wide variety of smells - from fresh hay in the cattle barns to corn dogs and ketchup on the midway. But most of all, I love that feeling of togetherness...the fact that our whole state seems to come together for ten days just to celebrate the end of summer and have fun. The people-watching from afar is great, but in recent years, I have loved striking up conversations with strangers at the fair. Whether I'm asking what they think of the walleye taco they're sampling or inquiring as to where they're from, when I'm at the fair, everybody's a friend.

So this past August, on my fourth and final fair day, I was sitting on a dusty curb and feeding Gus a bottle when another couple rolled their stroller up next to me and sat down. The dad took a fresh mini donut out of the white paper bag and tossed it from palm to palm while blowing on it. Then he passed it to his wife who seemed excited to give their one-year-old son his first taste of this state fair delicacy. The little boy devoured it...obviously. The parents smiled to each other and just as I was opening my mouth to comment about how much he was loving it, the mom said, "I wish I was wearing a t-shirt that said - we usually feed him kale."

I closed my mouth.

I had thought she'd be relatable. You know, we were both feeding babies. We were both wearing Keens. But her comment was such a turn-off for me. It came off as so snobby and I had zero interest in playing the mom olympics with her. My kids don't eat kale. I don't even eat kale. Kale is a hassle. So I turned back to Gus and the bottle, feeling very proud of having liberated myself from such heavy societal pressures.

And then a gentle voice from heaven reminded me what I'd been thinking not even five minutes earlier...

I wish people knew that I usually nurse him and that this is a bottle of breast milk.

Boom. Just like that, Mrs. Kale and I were one and the same. I had been wishing an imaginary t-shirt on myself the same way she had, a declaration to the world that "I'm a better mother than I seem to be at this particular moment in time because I...fill in the blank." She and I were both making the same assumptions...that feeding our kids certain things a certain way is what makes us good or not-so-good moms. And that the world cares. Both are false.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I've worn many, many imaginary t-shirts since becoming a mom.

There's the "I have a masters degree!" t-shirt that I've worn in my mind when interacting with smart, professional women who are getting solid sleep at night and don't struggle to come up with basic words like "tooth" or "television" in conversation.

When Harriet had an absolute meltdown at Target and I had to literally carry her out of the store upside-down, I wished I was wearing a t-shirt that said, "This is the first time she's ever done this...no, seriously, it is."

And then there are the really yucky t-shirts...the ones I wish on my kids. Dumb things, like when I am out with one of the boys, I feel compelled to tell people who comment about him or interact with us that he's a twin. It's like I'm wishing he had a t-shirt that says "I'm a twin" on the front and "I have a two-year-old sister" on the back. Heck, might as well throw in a little baseball cap that says "My mom sure is impressive, huh?"


I wish that last paragraph was wearing a t-shirt that said, "Please like me anyway." Or, "I know this is messed up, but I'm working on it."

When I take my daughter to a playdate or ECFE, I find myself wishing that she was wearing a t-shirt that says, "My parents are doing their darndest to teach me to share." Or, "I'm 98% potty trained." It's like I want to throw a precursor out there in case anything goes wrong...in case kid stuff happens. What's with that? Like I expect people to expect her to be perfect? Plus, let's be real. We're all only about 98% potty trained, right?

Some imaginary t-shirts are less self-involved and more about just trying to survive.

After we lost Ethan, I imagined myself into a t-shirt that said, "I'm a mama."

When I was pregnant with Harriet, I wished I had a maternity shirt with "No, this isn't my first" on it.

And even after Harriet was born, I had an imaginary t-shirt for her that said "I'm an IVF baby" to give other infertile families hope.

I know that lots of you are wearing imaginary t-shirts right now. Some of them say "this isn't a baby bump, it's fertility drugs" or "please stop asking me when we're going to have kids." Others say "I could really use a friend" or "Sometimes I feel like my worst case scenario is starting to play out." Some pretend t-shirts say "I'm not dumb/mean/bitter, I'm just so tired." Those aren't the ones I'm talking about today. Those are really legit. Keep wearing them if you need to, and I really hope that if I see you around, I'll really see you and the words on your imaginary t-shirt.

I've worn lots of those t-shirts. And I've unfortunately also worn a lot of the self-involved ones, too. I have to admit that it matters so much to me what people think. I thought I'd outgrow it but I never did. And I think it got worse after having children. That's the thing about kids - they put all of our garbage out there for the world to see and they don't care one bit, which leaves us with a very important choice...Do we double down and care enough for ourselves and our kids combined? Or do we follow their example, strip off that pretend t-shirt and just dance around in our imaginary nakedness?

I hope that I can learn to choose the latter. Because, as a good friend has been reminding me...I have an audience of One. And He is far less concerned with the meals I'm feeding my kids than with the truths I'm feeding them. He's not worried about the cleanliness of my house but rather the purity of my heart. In fact, I think He cares less about my role as a mother than He does about my role as His daughter. 

An audience of One. The kind of audience that gives a standing ovation and throws roses even when I've forgotten my lines, split my costume or straight-up fallen off that stage. Why? Because of that whole daughter thing. Imaginary t-shirt or not, He sees straight through to my heart.

So...what does your imaginary t-shirt say today? And what would it feel like, just this once, to leave it at home?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

sometimes you're washing rocks in the rain and your blog goes viral

One night in late September, Andrew and I were bouncing the boys to sleep in their room. I don't know if it's the darkness, the whir of that white noise machine, or the sleepy sweet baby in my arms that does it, but that's the time when I often start fashioning blog posts in my head. Most of the time, the good ideas vaporize the second I set that baby down, but prayer was something I'd been thinking about a lot, something I really wanted to write about, so after I put Louie in his crib and tiptoed out of there, I sat down at the computer for about five minutes and outlined a post about praying for the parents of the babies that might someday marry my kids. At 5:00 the next morning, I filled in the missing pieces, and later that morning, I put it up on my blog.

I always post my writing on Facebook for my friends and family to see. My mom always shares it. My husband often shares it. Occasionally another friend or two. But that day, maybe eight people shared it, and from there, it just kept going and going. It was exciting and fun to watch my view counter hit 1,000 then 5,000. I was shocked when it hit the big numbers - 10,000 then 50,000 and eventually 100,000. That's when I started freaking out a bit and considered taking the post down altogether. But I knew that people would ask why and I didn't have a good excuse besides, "It was stressing me out."

Emails started rolling in - from grandpas and grandmas, pregnant mothers, seasoned fathers, new moms struggling with postpartum, other twin parents. People were commenting like crazy. And then ABC contacted me. They wanted to post If My Child Marries Yours on their website. I gave them permission to post it, just as I did for few other websites (including one in Spanish and one in Portuguese) and my favorite - a church bulletin.

That's when it really blew up. The boys were napping and I was in the backyard with Harriet, picking rocks out of the grass and helping her wash them under the drain spout. The rain was soaking my hair and the sweatshirt I was borrowing from my husband. A pink rain slicker with legs was giving me instructions, "More rocks, Mom! Here, can you put them in a pile?" I was on a quiet mission to fill a plastic bucket with backyard rocks and all the while, the world was reading my heart.

At one point that drizzly morning, my post was getting 10,000 views about every four minutes. (Andrew kept me grounded by reminding me that half of those were probably my mom.) I could no longer follow all of the shares, likes and comments on Facebook. It felt bigger than I was, certainly must faster, and it was leaving me dizzy. As my audience broadened, the negative comments started coming in. Some were one hundred percent correct, pointing out the fact that my post promoted gender stereotypes. Some comments were downright mean and unfounded. Most were somewhere in between.

I was struck by the fact that people were judging me as a parent, as a Christian and as a person based solely on this one piece of writing - a simple blog post that was really the electronic equivalent of scrawling something on a napkin, written in an unfiltered manner and for a very small audience.

The most common criticisms I got for the post were often posed in the form of a question - What if your child is gay? What if your child doesn't get married? What if your child marries someone with a background that's different from yours? What if your child doesn't have children? A few even questioned whether I would still love my kids if they didn't follow the path my post seemed to lay out for them. While I will not respond to all of the negative comments I received, I very much want to respond to this one, so please listen carefully...

My ultimate dream for my children is not that they are heterosexual, that they marry or that they have children. My ultimate dream for my children is that they will know God and follow Him. Not because I want them to follow in my steps but because I want them to follow in Christ's. Because I know the hope, freedom and transformation that comes only by trusting Him, and the thought of them living and dying without Jesus is more than I can bear.

My prayers for my babies are not dominated by thoughts of their spouses, but rather by thoughts of their character. My main prayer for them, the one I recite over and over again is that they will seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God (Micah 6:8). That they will stand up for those whose voices aren't heard. That they will be kind down to their core. That humility and selflessness will define them. And that most of all, they will walk with God. This, I'm not budging on. This, I will battle all of hell for.

But like I said, at night when I sometimes feel alone, my thoughts go to those other parents who are perhaps doing the same tasks I am doing and to that larger legacy that we might be building together. That vision is something that helps me see past that mile-high stack of dirty diapers and the seemingly endless string of sleepless nights. It helps me remember that the menial tasks I'm doing right now...are important.

I don't moderate comments. You are all welcome to say whatever you want here. A comment would really have to cross the line in order for me to delete it. But a lot of the comments did sting...more than I thought they would have. Those first few days after the post went viral, I kept telling Andrew that I wished it never would have happened. I felt bruised by unkind words and I felt like so many assumptions were being made about me that weren't true. I also felt like my blog had been overexposed and was struggling to feel welcome in my own space. It is going to be a challenge for me to find my true voice again without examining every word for fear of either offending or being judged. In my last post, I wrote Harriet had been drinking a lot of kool-aid...and then deleted it because I didn't want people to point out the fact that she shouldn't be drinking something so sugary and artificial. That made me sad because if I'm censoring myself all the time, this blog is worthless to all of us.

On the other end of the spectrum, some of my very favorite comments were from people who identified themselves as atheists. They said that although they don't pray or believe in the God I follow, they still loved the heart of my post. They picked out things in my post to celebrate rather than nit-picking things that they didn't agree with. I am so sad that all of these commenters were anonymous because I would love to write to them and thank them for choosing to be so positive. I so wish that more Christians would do that. So, my dear readers, if you are a Christ-follower, can you make me a promise? When you read something online, written from a worldview that's different from yours, can you please look for the good? Can you please choose to encourage rather than argue, to find common ground rather than pointing out differences? A friend of mine recently told me that her husband said that he hopes he's never the type of person who clicks "dislike" on youtube. Amen, Nathan. I hope the same thing for myself and my children.

Having a post go viral was a crazy experience. At times, I felt like I was flying and at other times, I felt like I was sinking. What kept my head up? The comments and emails I got from struggling parents saying that the post was exactly what they needed to help them get through that particular day.

Also, I am humbled and grateful that a string of simple words got so many people dialoging about prayer...prayers for our children. And no matter how big that particular post got on that random Tuesday or how absolutely itsy bitsy it will be in the near future...because that's how the internet works...I hope that our prayers for our kids will stay big...and bold...and uncensored.

Two quick things...

1. If you are a "no reply commenter" or always comment as "anonymous," please consider claiming your comments and giving bloggers an opportunity to respond to you directly. There were so many comments - both positive and negative - that I would have loved to respond to, but I wanted to do it via email to assure that they'd read my response and to avoid a public argument when a private discussion would be more appropriate. It was a bummer to not be able to connect with readers more directly.

2. If you are one of the many who stated that you disagree with letting babies cry it out, know that I'm right there with you. Please read these two posts, not because I'm trying to convince you of anything, but because I want you to know the sleep journey that we've been on (or at least part of it).

lullaby and goodnight

sweet dreams

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Sunday morning, eight o'clock. Gus cries and wakes me. I double take at the clock. They never sleep in, but of course when they do, we have someplace to be. I hop up fast and jump into high gear. This baby needs to be nursed. So does that one, but we don't have time. Andrew gives him a bottle. I skip stairs on my way up to Harriet's room. Grab clothes and start dressing her, but she doesn't want that dress...melts to the floor in tears. I pick her up, skip stairs on the way up to her room again...way out of breath. Note to myself that I need to start working out.

"What do you want to wear?" I say in my best negotiating-with-a-toddler voice. I'm working hard to stay cheerful. She picks something goofy, too small and rather inappropriate for the weather.

"Perfect! Great choice!" I say and wrestle this child who has mysteriously and suddenly lost all muscle tone into this lousy excuse for an outfit.

I hear Andrew from downstairs, "Why don't you hop in the shower and I'll get the kids ready?" I know, most women would LOVE hearing this. But I'm annoyed because it feels like he's trying to control the situation. We're often late, and he hates that, usually blames me. I do my best to avoid you're-not-the-boss-of-me mode. I'm only moderately successful.

I try to make myself some oatmeal. The dog is in my way. The dog is always in my way. This morning, I'm not in the mood, so I put him out in the backyard where he can roam and explore and run. But he wants back in...very badly. "Fine. Come on in buddy," I say and open the door. He just stands there and about five mosquitos come inside instead.

The clothes I planned to wear? Dirty. Those earrings? Missing in action. That purse? Emptied out on the living room floor. The oatmeal? Totally forgot to pour it into the boiling water. The babies? Crying. The toddler? Not even sure where she is.

I burp Gus while I grab a pack of pop tarts from the cupboard. He lifts his head off the burp cloth and pukes down my neck. New shirts for both of us. Burping Louie, letting the dog out again. "Go outside Murphy. Hurry up," I say while holding the door ajar, welcoming in the rest of the mosquito family. Murphy finally goes outside while Louie shoves the burp cloth out of the way and empties his stomach all down the back of my shirt. Without even thinking, I slam that door as hard and as fast as I possibly can. The thunderous crack echoes in the kitchen, stops Gus's crying and brings Harriet out from hiding. I walk slowly through the intense silence and into my bedroom to change...for the third time in one hour.

I was frustrated. Frustrated...disappointed...such gentle, fancy words for something so plain and simple - anger. I was angry. Boiling mad like the oatmeal-less pot on the stovetop. Furious as the storms that were apparently raging inside my babies' tummies.

I've never been an angry person. I don't mind conflict, probably because the more intense things get, the more calm I get. I've never struggled to stay cool in the midst of relational tension...until I became a parent. In her book Surprised by Motherhood, Lisa-Jo Baker writes that she didn't realize that she had a temper until she became a mom. Same here, Lisa-Jo. Same here.

Maybe it's the sleeplessness. Maybe it's the feeling of powerlessness that happens when you can't get an eight-pound baby to do anything you want her to do. Maybe it's the caldron of emotions that gets stirred when two adults from different backgrounds try to parent the same child. Maybe it's the hormones. Maybe...yeah, pretty sure it's all of the above. And then there are the endless toys everywhere you walk...all of them somehow sharp or squeaky.

My husband's not immune from it. In fact, he's the primary target. I remember when we were having such trouble getting Harriet to sleep, we went for a morning walk. Andrew was full of advice and theories, and I literally had to step to the other side of the path to keep from slugging him. And not in a playful way. I wanted to punch him in the arm and I wanted it to hurt. I was angry. Sometimes, my fuse is short...too short. Sometimes it turns into sarcasm. Sometimes I get loud. Sometimes it's just a seething silence.

We're potty training around here. Have been for quite a while. We've taken a really relaxed approach to it. Partially because we want her to lead and partially because we're lazy. Some days she wants to wear a diaper, and that's fine. Most of the time, she wants to wear her underwear, which is exciting. I'm so proud of her. The other day, she was drinking a lot. She had four accidents in about three hours. I kept asking her if she had to go, and she'd insist she didn't while doing a dance that looked like she was standing on hot coals. I begged her to use the potty. Enter power struggle. I backed down, knowing that this was a battle I couldn't win. All of a sudden, she's standing in another puddle. I already had the boys in the stroller, all ready to go to the park. I didn't want to leave them in the driveway while I got her changed, so I wheeled them into the garage and hurried her into the house.

They were kind of like this...except crying.
I was annoyed. Okay, I was mad, and she knew it.

"I'm not mad that you peed, honey. I'm mad that you keep lying when I ask you if you have to go."

"But Mom, I...no, not those pants!"

I did not have time for this. I ran and grabbed a few pairs for her to choose from. She deliberated for several minutes before announcing her decision. All the while, I'm sighing loudly, rushing her, feeling my face get hot. I put the pants on her and gently push her out the door.

"Mom," she says in her best preschool teacher voice, "It's not a good idea to push kids. And when you use that hard voice, it hurts my feelings."

"Okay, I'm sorry, sweetheart. Let's talk while we walk."

And we did.

I usually find that my temper flares when my self care is low or my sense of self entitlement is getting the best of me. Like when I haven't had time out of the house in a few days. Or when I have insisted on doing the nights by myself for a week straight. Or when I realize that it's 6:00 pm and all I've eaten are some chips and fake guacamole (yeah, when you're eating artificial guacamole, you know it's bad).

Or when I start to think that I deserve this or that, because really, I don't deserve anything at all. And this season - the parenting one - is a season of sacrifice. When I was a little kid, we would sing this song:

Make me a servant, humble and meek
Lord, let me lift up those who are weak
And may the prayer of my heart always be
Make me a servant, make me a servant
Make me a servant today.

This has been my prayerful song for the past few months. You'll hear me singing it at the strangest times, all throughout the day. Reminding myself that I'm a servant mama, making sure that while I'm wiping their hands and faces, I'm also metaphorically washing their feet. If I'm able to take good care of myself while maintaining a servant's heart, those red hot angry emotions usually have a hard time besting me.

Here's the thing...I don't think there's anything wrong with anger. It's an emotion just like sadness or excitement or fear. We can't judge it. In fact, I think our kids can learn just as much from our anger as they can from our joy.

Every time we mess up is an opportunity. An opportunity to show our kids that we are flawed, sinful people, and that apologies are some of the most important words we can speak. In fact, the first words I spoke today were apologies - to Harriet for being crabby with her during her bedtime routine last night and to Andrew for...pretty much everything I did and said all evening long. My blog post was going viral and although I was excited, I was also feeling the weight and responsibility of those two million views heavy on my shoulders. I was digging deep to fight off the discouragement that I was feeling from the negative comments. I was exhausted (like maybe five hours of sleep in three days exhausted) and everyone in the family was feeling the prick of my spiny mood. So this morning started with two apologies, both graciously accepted. Harriet even told me that she thinks Jesus is warming up my heart.

That's good news, my girl. Really good news.
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