Next time, it will be different :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 31}

31 October 2012

There's a place right around the third level of hell that is commonly referred to as "Party City on Halloween Eve." This scary place is home to every giant cartoon balloon, sad/smutty lady costume, and wide-brimmed straw cowboy hat known to man.

And I have seen it, with my own two eyes. I have been there, and I have lived to write about it.


I put off everything. Literally. I am the worst procrastinator. When it comes to school parties (birthday parties, Christmas parties, moving parties), I leave everything till the last minute. I stop at the grocery store on my way to the school (10 minutes late, natch), grab the store-made cupcakes nearest the entrance, and make a mad dash for the express checkout lane. Then I mosy in to the gathering (bris, baptism, wedding) with the goods and wipe the sweat from my brow.

I will never do that again, I think. Next time, it will be different.

But it's not ever different. Especially this time, especially on Halloween. I don't sew costumes, I don't make anything. I wait for the shops to put holiday items on clearance and then I force my children down the aisles, "Sorry, kiddos, this is all that's left. Bummer!" We grab a synthetic pumpkin or two, a two-sizes-too-big Darth Vader costume, and we're all set.


Except now things don't go on clearance until after the holidays (ugh, Obama!), and all of the sudden it's Halloween Eve, and three Targets and one KMart later, I find myself at Party City. Up until I enter their streamer laden sliding doors, I feel like the worst mother ever. Of course every kid wants to be Iron Man. Of course my kid is growing, growing, gone. Of course he changed his mind a coupla times. Of course everything's full price, everything's sold out, and I'm speedwalking through three different counties during rush hour.

And then, I arrive at Party City. Suddenly, I feel a bit better, a bit lighter, a bit... ok, a lot more scared. Packed to the brim with bickering parents and pointing younguns. Instead of costumes, there's a line-up of pictures on the wall. A who's who of cartoon consumerism. Name brand only, lady. Which Avenger, Star Wars character, Disney Princess would you like?

Um, uh, I think... 138? Yeah, 138, in a youth medium, um, please.

DSCN0133"138! Medium!" She yells into her headset. "Sorry, ma'am [I'm sorry, what did you say?! Ma'am?!?!], but that's sold out."

Ok, 136... the one with muscles, in a youth medium. Yeah, Ok, 136.

I have now upped my game from $20 to $30 for one costume for the eldest, and if it is sold out, then God help me, I won't be able to go home.

"136! Medium! Ok, we got one. Follow the green feet back."

So I follow the green feet, and I wait in the back with the tweens and their Scream masks. I lay my hands on the beautiful 136 and I take my winnings and my pride and walk, head held high, to the checkout line which wraps itself 'round the store.

One hour later and I am home. Ah well, this is how it goes for the messy mom, the procrastinator, the unskilled keeper of the home. Every year, every time, just in time.

He is waiting by the door, "Well, well?! Did you get it?!" And as I lay the prize in his long, thin arms, I think, I will never do that again.

Next time, it will be different.

So this is it. The 31st day. Thank you for joining me here. I'm still a mess, but at least I'm not hiding it anymore. And at least we can lean into it together. And at least we've made some headway, cleared out the clutter a bit, tidied up so there's room to grow. At least, I hope so.

My top 5 not-so-messy-parent bloggers :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 30}

30 October 2012

I'm so tired of writing about parenting! Clearly I've still got loads of things to work through, and seeing as how I could use all the help I can get, here are some of my favourite not-so-messy-parent bloggers (though they might try to refute that!)...

Katie @ Branson Family Blog :: Katie taught me how to make banana bread and embrace simplicity, literature and British dramas.

Nearly Natural Nicole :: My blonde alter ego who encourages me to try new things (sushi, cooking), allows me to edit her writing, and won't put up with any of my crap.

Jen Hatmaker :: For obvious reasons (i.e., 7, her love for the poor, hilarity, and her prophetic voice for Jesus)

Pam @ I think I missed the class on... :: Pam taught me how to menu plan, follow Jesus anywhere (even to Iowa!) and to not take myself - as a mother, a ministry wife or an imperfect homemaker - too seriously.

Sarah Bessey :: Oh my, how I love her heart and her fire and how she makes parenting, writing, and advocating look effortless, yet profound.

Yeah, these women are awesome. The ones I know in real life have impacted my life in epic ways I can't even begin to share here... and the ones I don't yet know (though I pretend to, whatever) inspire me to keep looking upward and moving forward.

Thank you... for contributing to the mess.

Who's your top go-to resource for all things parental and/or spiritual?

On falling off the wagon :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 29}

29 October 2012

You know how they say you shouldn't fall in love/get married/give away your flower until you love yourself and/or find your wholeness in God? And then they say you shouldn't have kids until you've travelled the world, paid off all your debt and bought a house? And then, you know - as a parent - you've now got it all figured: the planning, the budgeting, the disciplining and the healthy eating?

Yeah, well, I've just fallen off the wagon.

Matt found me (and loved me) back when I was a mess - more of a mess than I am even now (if you can believe it). We grew up together, made idiot decisions together, fought and healed together, followed God together. We are a super, massive, grace-chasing work in progress

All this while having kids, then travelling the world, renting one house after another, full-time ministry plus several part-time jobs, learning to cook and then setting things on fire (meals/food/pots & pans), getting fat, getting skinny, planting a garden, moving away, becoming less healthy, then more healthy, then - hooray! - prepregnancy weight (only took nine years).

But these last couple of months have found me reverting to my old ways, going back to my old loves, indulging in some... gasp!... comfort food. Lattes, candy corn, late-night chips and queso, and more crying/worrying than walking/exercising. Just like that, five pounds have reappeared, attaching themselves to my waist and making my slim bootcut jeans very upset.

Now, I'm not a total failure. I'm still within a couple pounds of my Weight Watchers goal weight (a lifetime member now, thankyouverymuch). But I feel it in my trousers and in my energy, see it in what I feed my children and how we spend our free time. And I'm down, and frusrated, and not really liking where I think this is going.

The thing is, it can be exhausting, making healthy choices. A lot of research goes into menu planning, a lot of time into grocery shopping, a lot of energy into cooking from scratch. And I'm not very good at it. Sometimes the kids don't eat it. I have a toddler asking me for mac & cheese daily (he wants the powdered, pricey boxed stuff; won't touch the homemade Pioneer Woman baked goodness that I slave over a literal hot stove for). I mean, what's a mom to do?

[it should be noted that said toddler is at this very moment dropping coins down the heating vent; i just wanted you to share in my pain for a bit]

Well, I know what I am to do. I've got to gird up my loins and go back to Weight Watchers. Weekly, not just monthly for my pat-on-the-back. I've got to start keeping track again, buying fresh fruit and veg again, using recipes again. I've got to make a date with a park a few times a week. I need to walk around this hilly neighbourhood, praying and singing and looking heavenward. And I've got to get my kids in on the act. I want them to see in me a woman of purpose and moderation and joy. 

And even though it's just five pounds, those five pounds are taking up some valuable joy space. And I've only got so much of that to spare.

Do you feel like there's one area of adulthood and/or parenthood you've finally sorted out? Or is there something that keeps rearing its ugly head?

Picture Sunday :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 28}

28 October 2012

Learning to let my kids run, when they need to run...

Sometimes all you can do is laugh as they pass you by.

Every Sunday this month I've been sharing pictures from our family, uncensored and unposed. I don't know about you, but I think I'm finally able to embrace the happy imperfections and distinct personalities that shine through in every image. I would love to see some of yours, too!

Mom, can I start a blog? :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 26}

26 October 2012

"Mom, can I start a blog?"

The eldest came at me with this request last week, not altogether out-of-the-blue. He is the super imaginative one, artistic and book-wormy and writer of notes and short stories. Still, I huffed a little bit.

"A blog? Why do you want to start a blog?" I asked him, probably not even looking at him, probably while I myself was on the computer.

"I want to write my own stories and then publish them... you know, like you!"

Oh, sweet boy. But my blog is nothing. I write about laundry and cheerios, I play more with my fonts than I do with my words, it's totally unprofessional looking and you should see my hit count. I mean, it's all very amateur and sad, really.

I say nothing of this to him, of course; but I think it when he speaks up, asks me to pay attention, and tells me what's important to him. I was embarrassed and confused, wondering why on earth he would want to write a blog.

Then, you know, I actually thought about it, thought about him. I see myself through his eyes. He sees that I'm writing down our life, sharing our stories, asking for prayer. He sees that I love the way he looks in that one picture, so tall and bright, nearly reaching my shoulder. He sees that there is something worth documenting, something unique we have, something small to offer. And he sees that others - you - join me here, comment and respond, know our faces and our hearts even if you don't know our last name.

He sees the gift he has, for words and reading and imagination, and with big brown eyes and crooked teeth, says, "You know, like you."

Oh, sweet boy. You have so much to say, so much to offer the world (or maybe just your grandparents and aunts and uncles, for now). Yes, let's start you a blog.

What strange requests have your children offered up? 

I was ugly :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 25}

25 October 2012

Ireland 2009, Day 1 129

I think I will regret this, putting it out there. It is so much more, so much heavier - wrought with humility - than a witty 31-day-series tag line. Writing down the words, words I've only said to two, maybe three people... writing them here for you to see.

You will judge me, but I feel compelled. I want to see how truth is beauty. Even ugly truth, made beautiful by what happens, what came, how God was in it anyway. The beauty, it's all him. The ugly - that's me.

The truth is, I didn't want him.

I took the test in a fit. Of course, of course. And when the second line turned pink... of course.

We had talked about a third, always wanted a third, even named a third. But I wasn't ready. And I wasn't happy. And this was not the way it was to go.

Ireland was new to us, only a few months old to us. The wheels were greased, turning easier and faster and we were ready to hit our groove and sail right along. I'd been given an assignment, one I felt so proud to deliver on and make mine, one I hadn't even begun yet. I sat in a coffee shop, sick and stressed and hiding our secret.

We were idiots. And now there was a third. And I didn't want him.

This is ridiculous: a married mother of two not liking the timing, the inconvenience of a third child. This is the worst thing: to know how God loves and creates tiny humans for the delight of eternity and to feel so distraught over it. We were (mostly) in love and we were (mostly) able to readily welcome an addition, and yet I was (mostly) in despair, for no other reason than my misguided desire for a life worth something... more.

The not wanting... the not accepting, not thanking, not participating in the life within drained my reservoirs of faith. I was so ashamed. I was so afraid. I was so sure I would not - could not - mother him the way I ought. I was ugly with selfishness. I hid from God.

But... but... of course. Something changed. We grew.

Two months of sickness and stillness makes one think and leads one to pray and allows one to rest in the inconvenient, inefficient nature of God. Around week ten I was nervous and antsy. I began to worry that my not wanting him made him go away. I was in a fit, knew it was too late, wanted to take it all back. We begged to be seen by the local GP (weeks before my first scheduled antenatal appointment in the hospital). We needed to hear it; I had to know.

We heard the heartbeat, and Ella's laughter rang through. 12 weeks along. Then 16. Then 33. Then due date, contraction, labour... a boy. The beauty, it's all him.

The truth is, I was ugly and did not want him. But he was beauty and we named him Asher. Happy.


Are you in this place, dumbfounded - saved - by beauty amidst the ugly?

Of cocoa puffs and cobblestone streets :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 24}

24 October 2012


I like to think that my children lead a very glamorous life.

Airplanes and oceans and languages... strollers on cobblestone streets and nursing baby across from the opera house and stamps filling up the passport. These are fantastic memories, and when I load my children into the minivan at 6am in the morning for a 10 hour drive from our apartment to Granny's stoop, I close my eyes and remember.

Fresh, cold wind on red cheeks.

Our life seems not so glamorous now. A catastrophic cocoa puff spill. Pulling of hair and calling of names. Carefully weighing the risk asessment of boredom versus the dvd player. Sitting shotgun, in reverse on both knees, pointing and yelling and throwing paper towels and putting out friendly-fires. At 75 mph on the interstate.


But this is what we do. We get in the van (or the plane), and we go. We travel, we seek, we wait. We wake up early and get dressed and pack our sippy cups for the next mission.

"Mom, remember when you woke me up at 4 in the morning to fly to another country? The sun was up then, not dark like today."

Well, the sun is always up at 4 in the morning in Ireland in August. And he remembers... the 4am wake-up call in 2008 to catch a flight to Hungary.

Yes, these are fantastic memories for burgeoning adventurers.


[a repost from February 2012]

What adventure are you writing with your family these days? 

The freedom to be different :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 23}

23 October 2012

The most convicting thing I've read all week:

...the first characteristic of grace-based homes is: They are homes that give children the freedom to be different. It is not a grace-based home when parents allow their children to be free but then punish them for being different. If you have a different child and remind her about the sacrifice you've made to accommodate her quirks, it is not a context of grace...

Grace Based Parenting, by Dr. Tim Kimmel (p. 141)


Picture Sunday :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 21}

21 October 2012

It's all a blur... just how I'll remember their childhood.


But still, it is one of my favourites. 

I'll be sharing some of my favourite family photos on Sundays this month. Join me and comment with a link to your favourite (or not so favourite) family photo; one with a story to tell, maybe... let's remember the moments that go by in a blur.

Family fun gone awry :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 20}

20 October 2012

Do you remember how cute and adorable Asher was last week at the farmer's market, all dolled up in his new monkey leash and curly, dew-dropped hair?

Yeah, well, that child is missing today. As are the other two. They have been replaced by ransacking criminals. And their parents are gone, too; we are their henchmen. Contract killers of Saturday Morning Family Fun.

:: at least i got some good images before the sadness ::

I like to think I roll with the punches, that I bend down on one knee, look them in the eye, and firmly (yet softly) tell them their behaviour is a little wanting and I need their help in adhering to a more affirming family philosophy.

But I don't. We whisper fiercely through clenched teeth, grab an arm and sigh loud enough so there is no mistaking the foreshadowed consequence. We heave and pull and walk quickly to the exits. In fact, the only parent worth her metal is my mother, who keeps a smile and easy-going "You're doing grand" look on her face. She's got more experience, after all.

We are the amateurs.

So a morning of family fun has gone awry. This sometimes happens. Ok, this often happens.

Does this ever happen to you? How do you shake off the shame and frustration, and reconcile with your precious fam?

We did well here :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 19}

19 October 2012


This lamp made this our home. The first thing we bought when we came back, the first thing I saw that said, "Here is where you can start again, again." We put the $12 lampshade on an old lamp we left behind, black iron and pull cord. We set it on the abandoned end table (my mother collects many abandoned things). Slowly, a home came into view.

The wall shelf was a gift, a Christmas present made of liptus. My favourite type of wood. We couldn't take it with us before, but it waited for us here, and when we returned it was the first thing nailed in. A photo collage, a winter print of the Hundertwasser neighborhood in Vienna, the Attestation of Pilgrimage to Israel (I was 19 and in love for the second time), the five of us framed in Trim. God bless our family, it says. And our Compassion children peeking out from behind school uniforms. There may even be a stone hippo from Kenya. It is cluttered, but our memories are displayed. When I walk in this room, the first thing I see is our life.

I say it's not a house, not our forever home, not where we'll stay. But I look at this picture and I know we did well here. Are doing well here.

Five Minute Friday

Lisa-Jo Baker invites us to write, every Friday, for five minutes. Today her prompt was Look and beyond all the mess, I saw what was beautiful. You should try it, too.

15 years later :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 18}

18 October 2012

Behold, the people behind the messy parenting. Our first date was 15 years ago today.

15 years is a long time to live with someone - anyone - particularly a boy from Wisconsin who left a giant piece of wood in the closet that I banged my foot up against today. This is how we roll. He the woodworker and I the writer, and I know if our habits were reversed and computers no longer existed, he'd be yelling at me for all the paper cuts he'd receive from the journals and scraps I'd leave all over the place.

But the writing - like the handcrafted furniture and toys and frames that dot our life across two continents - is about us. Two broken people who love hard amidst the daily mess, and the little people who inhabit the stories.

It's not clean and it's not perfect. But I can live with that.

Where does your story begin?

Naptime :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 17}

17 October 2012

He's switched the beds, old for new, baby for toddler. The crib held all three babies born, built by their father, stained and assembled with care the night before we welcomed the first.

A gift of love.

jackson in crib2

tummy time

But it's gone now, and it's ok. It did it's job. All babies deserve a comfortable, peaceful, safe place to sleep. And ours had that. Thank you, Lord.

And now? Well, now it's not as peaceful and a bit more explosive. Bedtime routines are less predictable now, and don't even get me started on naptime. Naptimes barely exist anymore. It's not just that he's three, but it's that he's no longer penned in. A toddler bed of pallets and an old door cannot contain him.

And it's ok. He loves this new freedom, the feel of the bounce when he runs and jumps in. How we can lay next to him and read. How he can exhaust himself from playing and land in a heap. How he can wake up, nose to nose, with the father who gave him a place to lay his head.

Bribing children, somewhat unsuccessfully :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 16}

I bribe my children.

There, I said it.

Yes, I know it's not really wise or sustainable long term. I know there are better ways to handle potty accidents at school or staying in one's bed or a chores system... actually, I don't think I do. What are those better ways? And I know this may or may not be reinforcing some bad habits that will perhaps come back to them later in life. I know this because I currently practice it (lose 10 lbs? hooray! now eat some cheesecake!).


So when our sweet strong-willed girl was having some washroom issues at school, I paid her - yes, paid her - to stay dry. A dollar a day. In her defense, it didn't take the first few days (what can I say? the  girl has a one-track mind and that track is "dress up in all the things no matter how complicated disrobing might be"). But after a week, she came home dry... not one, not two, but as of today -- six days in a row! Will I give her all $6? Probably not. She's not so great at math yet, and besides, she loves nickels. But she is dry, no longer embarrassed at school, and I can cancel our appointment with the child psychologist.

The exception that proves the rule: She used to stay in her bed all night if I promised she could wear whatever she wanted the next day. I will tell you this: when your child picks out the same homemade red cowboy shirt three days straight, you will fold like any good self-respecting mother would. (full disclosure: the shirt was Matt's at age 5.)

The eldest is a different matter. He is almost entirely self-sufficient, getting himself breakfast in the morning, starting our coffee (it's just a button to push; no children were harmed in the writing of this blog post), no longer writing on walls or eating books. And he really couldn't care less about rewards, and I have tried!

Jack is perfectly content to never see the floor of his room. Allowance is nearly meaningless. He acts all excited that I'll let him play a computer game (or three) as soon as he accomplishes the job, but within an hour or two of the initial bribe, he's forgotten all about it. I find him, 40 minutes after lights out, still on the floor surrounded by clothes and legos, reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for the eighth time.

shot_1348072310477.jpgThe wee lad, he doesn't understand blackmail yet, doesn't quite get the "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" mothering mentality I'm trying to master. But in a pinch, when he won't stay in his own bed and I find him at 11pm sitting on his sleeping sister's head, I pull out my ace: Wiggles video first thing in the morning, trip to Nana's, chocolate milk. In no time at all, he's a gentle sleeping baby bird in his nest. I try not to use this often, as the costs of this bribe increase exponentially in relation to gas prices and my dwindling sanity.

In retrospect, it appears I only try to bribe my children. It's all about finding that thing your kids will do almost anything for: money, Wiggles videos, and... gum. I think Jack might clean the bathrooms for some gum. I should get on that.

Ok, let me have it. What am I doing wrong? How does one get one's child to clean his or her bedroom without yelling or a bottomless piggy bank?

The leash :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 15}

15 October 2012


Nine years later, three kids in, and we are just now in need of the dreaded tool of toddler maintenance.

The leash.

Really, I'm quite proud. Up till now, we were able to play a pretty good zone defense. But this guy right here, he is just too fast, too unpredictable, too unafraid of peril. 


I love him too much to let him jump in front of a moving to car, to let him ride a kangaroo at the zoo, to let him steal from Target.

And it turns out, he kinda likes having a monkey on his back, even in the lashing rain of the city market. Our kids, they've got the Irish resilience.


So, did you leash up your kids? Or are they more of the free-range variety?

Picture Sunday :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 14}

14 October 2012

Oh yeah, this is a good one from the days of yore.

Christmas 020

You can almost hear the screams...

I'll be sharing some of my favourite family photos on Sundays this month. Join me and comment with a link to your favourite (or not so favourite) family photo; one with a story to tell, maybe... I would LOVE to see your mess. 

Diving headfirst :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 13}

"When I read the Bible, I get the distinct sense that Jesus wasn’t interested in saving the nuclear family from a windy onslaught of liberal opinions. I rather get the impression that he was concerned with diving headfirst into the unvarnished messiness of the human condition and saving us—as individuals, as families, as communities, as people—from our own unhinged self-absorption and festering lovelessness. 
The world is a mess because we are a mess. We are a mess because I am a mess. I am a mess because my heart is a mess. And the heart condition of each of us is the heart of the issue. Any other agenda, any other moralistic totem or golden calf half-truth, any political platform or religious soapbox should receive our careful scrutiny. Because an idol carved in the shape of a smiling family is still an idol." [emphasis added]

Idolatry of the Family, by Ben Ponder | Media Rostra

This article kicked my butt a few weeks back. What do you think? Do we make an idol of the nuclear family here in America?

My slow clap for 7 {a review}

12 October 2012

I'm interrupting this regularly scheduled 31 Days series with a major announcement:

I have finished yet another non-fiction book! Thank you for the slow clap.

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by the hilariously brave Jen Hatmaker rocked my socks off. I've already hinted as much in my post for (in)courage about the chapter on Waste, but I wanted to share a bit more about this brilliant book and it's main message:

Jesus, may there be less of me and my junk and more of You and Your kingdom.

Truth be told, I was afraid. I'd heard about this book, and really, the last thing I wanted to read was something else to make me feel more guilty (than I already do) about what I wasn't doing (or wasn't doing well enough). But this is not that book.

You see, God had already called Jen to a life changed. And He's already called me to that, too. But the thing is, I don't think many of us really know what that change is to look like. We feel in our bones and in the (very) few contemporary worship songs that touch our hearts, and see in the sojourners who have gone before us into the great unknown of risky obedience, we have been set apart to do and be something different, but what that is...? Well, I for one am fumbling in the dark, hands outstretched, feeling for something tangible to keep me steady and point the way.

This message gets drowned out with busy nonsense. It gets overshadowed by online bill pay and mandatory church programs and the school pick up line and coffee meetings. We see glimpses of it in a random blog post or an invitation in the mail, but then mom, i need this permission slip tomorrow! and when is dinner ready? and oh my gosh there is just so much junk in my house where did I put that email address?!

Are you feeling any of this? Well, apparently Jen was, and they were soon making choices of change: resigning from the big (well-dressed) church, planting a church in an undesirable neighbourhood, and pursuing the call to adoption, to name just a few. But then a hurricane-displaced child showed up, recognized affluent wealth in the open doors of her 2400 square foot home, and Jen's mutiny against excess began to take shape.

Food, Clothing, Possessions, Media, Waste, Spending, Stress. These are the areas of relatively normal human life where Jen saw something amiss, something that needed to change, something that needed some... tweaking. Thus began a year-long experiment of abstaining from (or practicing anew) one topic, for one month, in seven simple ways.

Jen's LLOL humour (literally laugh out loud), her obvious hard-spent research, and her trial-and-error approach kept me reading. As did her refusal to turn this project into another form of evangelical guilt-turned-legalism (spoiler alert: she fails sometimes!). This book, her experiment, is about freedom. It is about letting go of a culturally desired, but not entirely necessary way of life. It is about thinking before you eat, before you spend, before you throw away, before you turn on the computer. It is about asking yourself, in that oh-so-1990s way, What would Jesus do?

And it's about loving God, loving your neighbour, loving your city and loving the world in actions and in truth.

When I closed the last page of 7, I did not feel guilty. Quite the contrary, I feel empowered. I feel like a good friend had just walked me through a refining fire, showing me the glory on the other side (I miss my new good friend Jen). I can see tangible acts of change, of grace, of mercy, of Gospel living. I can see small steps in obedience that lead me closer to Jesus.

This is no formula and it is no checklist. 7 is at the very least a guidepost, at the most a call to repentance. It is an ebenezer, and it is a challenge. I hope we're all brave enough to write a different script, to embrace a counter-cultural life of simplicity and stewardship, to put God's heart above our bottom line. Less of me, more of Jesus.

Oh, that sounds so nice for a change.

My new good friend Jen did not compensate me for this review in any way. But I'm not above a tweet shout-out or friending on facebook. 

So tell me, have YOU read it? Or is there something else on your nightstand that I have to know about?

God & Honest Toddler :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 11}

11 October 2012

She asks us, "Where are you at with God right now?" and my mind goes blank. I don't know where I am, I think. I don't know where I am, anywhere. 

This is Honest Toddler. He's not our toddler, at least not that we're aware of, but his tweets make us suspicious as they eerily reflect the life we're living with our wee lad.

So you know, Asher throws this fit yesterday. All out rage as he flings shoes and socks off in the car. It's already been one of those days and he'd had it with the wait time. As we turn into our parking lot, he is all despair and resignation: slinking back in his chair, staring out the window, sighing big tears. We pull into our space and of course there's like an armful of car crap I've got to take into the apartment, and here is our own honest toddler, barefoot and needy. It's 40 degrees out, just too cold to walk, and his tender toes touch the ground with a whimper.

Hold me.

He is tired and apologetic without words, and with my left arm full of the car crap, I pull him up with my right arm. He barely hangs on, chubby legs wrapped around my thigh, fingers curled on my collar, whimpering still.

I am juggling all the things a life with three kiddos entails: the socks, the shoes, the homework, the jackets, the Woody doll. And my little guy, he's just holding on for dear life. He trusts me, but he's scared and tired and cold and he can't make it to the door on his own. We make it, just barely, and I set him down for a brief moment on the cold concrete so I can open the door and let him in.

Here you go, babe. 

I am holding on for dear life, fingers curled around His collar, wrapped around His sturdy frame. I trust Him, but I am scared and tired and not sure I can make it to the door on my own. In His left arm he juggles the world, the real problems, the crap that comes with fallen nature and sin and death. 

And in His right arm, He carries weak, whimpering me... and as we near the door - we are so close to the door - my feet dangle towards the cold floor.

Where are you with God right now? Maybe we can hang on together...

Chocolate for breakfast :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 10}

10 October 2012

Ok, so maybe he had a chocolate peanut butter cup for breakfast. And maybe we all slept in well past the point of no return. And maybe the children didn't brush their teeth before school. And maybe the wee lad threw himself down in a fit in front of the door, refusing to put on jacket (or socks, or shoes). And maybe I yelled. A lot.

Still we say I Love You as each one exits the car, off to a day of adventure at school, a day of burning bushes at work. 

And I carry him to the front door of the apartment because the ground is too cold for his bare feet.

And the man sends me a series of texts: Yes, he did mail his voter's registration. Is asher too small/big for a leash? Will I meet him for a lunch date?

Suddenly, life is back to normal... whatever normal is for us. We're so far from perfect or ideal or normal that sometimes I'm suffocated by the weight of what we've created.

And sometimes I turn my head to the sun, rejoicing in the broken beauty of it. 

A hot mess :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 9}

09 October 2012

We are a hot mess. All red, chapped fingers (me) and bleeding patches on back and legs (her). I had no idea what eczema was until I was 18, even though I suffered with it my whole life. And now, it is our whole life. Or at least, a big chunk of it. She and I, cracked and itchy skin, binding us together like everything else

If I could add up all the ointments and all the prescriptions and all the money, I'm sure it would be enough to cover our next five years in Ireland. It's at least enough to meet our very high deductible, to spend a good portion of our time and income at Target, to have a linen closet full of things we've tried, things which have failed, things I have talked my husband into making (homemade detergent and multipurpose cleaners). We are one giant science experiment. The variables are always changing, but the constant is stays the same: frustration (partnered with pain and tears).

So I have spent the better part of this weekend on the National Eczema Association's website. I had no idea such a site existed! (Yes, that is how informed I am on our fun little genetic disease). Did you know that Corticosteroids thin your skin? A dozen years later, I do. Still, they are one of the most effective treatments, even while - in the long run - making things worse.

Can you read the frustration in every syllable?

Yes, we are both a hot mess. But on the plus side, my sad hands have relinquished dishwasher duty to the husband. See? For every eczema cloud, a silver lining.

Oh, another silver lining? Here's a not-entirely-exhaustive list of items that (so far) have helped a bit more than hurt.

Dry homemade detergent (grated ivory, washing soda & borax)
Arm & Hammer (Free & Clear)

Soaps/Body Wash:
Trader Joe's Tee Tree Tingle

TAC in Aquaphor

Do health issues drive you as insanely crazy as they do me? How do you cope with the cost, the time, the frustration?

Note: Post contains zero affiliate links, only personal suggestions. Consult your doc - and let me know what you find out!

When your baby is no longer your baby :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 8}

08 October 2012


He's growing up. And I am not handling it super well.


Ok, so he's only nine, but he might as well be 19 for all the huffs and closed doors and big hazel eyes dodging mine. When I sit next to him and explain the hows and whys of discipline - how it's all wrapped up in love, how our hopes for him rely on a few boundaries - his long fingers play with fraying jeans.

Do you understand? Would you like to say something?


I know this is how it goes, and I remember what they said. When your baby speaks only in howling cries and you don't know if he needs food or nappy or a change in scenery, they tell you it will get better. And harder. How the days and years fly by. How one day you'll have actual conversations. How they might even break your heart.

But he's nine, and it's too early for fighting.

How do you grow with your kids? Are you all mess and tears, like I am?

Picture Sunday :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 7}

07 October 2012

Sometimes, the most imperfect picture represents the truest image of our family dynamic. This photo says, "My mother tortures me. Help me escape."


I'll be sharing some of my favourite family photos on Sundays this month. As you can see, we really have a knack for it. Feel free to post a link to your favourite (or not so favourite) family photo; one with a story to tell, maybe...

A million tiny plastic pieces :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 6}

06 October 2012

The heat is on. Our living room is filled with moving boxes (for fort-making, not yet moving). A million tiny plastic Lego pieces are spread throughout the place. Cartoons in one room, radio theatre in another, and Downton Abbey is in the queue for the unpacking and washing of winter clothes.

For right now, in this moment, we're at peace. And they are pretending and creating and laughing. They're happy.

And cleaning up can wait until tomorrow. Or the next day.

Autumn is here. This is how we're celebrating. How do you celebrate this change of seasons?

On making excuses & not showing up :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 5}

05 October 2012

It's an easy excuse I use too often.
"Sorry, I can't, I've got the kids."
"Oh, that sounds great, but it's a little too close to naptime."
"I'd love to, really, but, well, you know how toddlers are."
Life with the wee three is tailor-made for excuses of all kinds. They're loud and they're fast and they all run in different directions. They distract and disrupt and yell. Did I mention the biting? Or the falling and the crying? And I'm a mess. A real, human frazzled-and-frizzy-haired-mom-of-a-mess. I yell and cry, too. I chase them, and sigh, and want to hide. I'm embarrassed and exhausted.

These are my reasonings - my very adequate and totally understandable reasonings - for holding back, not showing up, missing out. I'm doing you a favor, I think. Truly, you wouldn't want us there.

Except... that's no way to live. And it's no way to teach your kids how to live. Or to serve. It's no way to be family within community. And it's really no way to grow or to learn or to love. 

And those are all the reasons why I said yes to today. Me and my kids are going to show up. We are going to be loud and we are going to be messy. We are going to go meet some other kiddos who are oh-so-far away from home. My kids are gonna love the heck out of them, for no other reason than they are kids, too, and they know what it's like to be away from home. We are going to craft it up good, even though we are not crafty and even though the wee lad will be running and throwing and probably eating said crafts.

It's too easy to say no, but it's oh so hard to train them in the way they should go if you don't show up at all. We may as well just all go together, before they start making excuses, too.

[a repost from April 2012]

So, who else has a mess - or just plain old life and family and biting toddlers - they're afraid to show up with?

The bend of her bow :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 4}

04 October 2012

We're bent the same, she and I. They say that it's the one who is most like you - the one struggling with your weaknesses, the one mastering your strengths - who will exasperate you and frustrate you and push you to your fraying limits.

She's mine: my tiny, brown-eyed twin.

It's not that she's disobedient or bad or anything like that. On the contrary, she wants to please... so much... so much that it hurts (literally) sometimes. We used to say, when the wee lad was born, that she might accidentally kill him with kindness (this was when she'd run and jump over his wee newborn body or lay on top of him, smothering him with kisses). But she didn't and he's still around, calling after her in newly pronounced Ls.

"El-La, El-La."

He chases after her, which is what we all do. We can't keep up. And we can't keep her down. She's a sly one. Free-spirited. Creative. Wild. Brave. All the things you wish for in a girl, things that will make her strong and independent. Things that will help her in the future when she auditions for her first play, or goes toe-to-toe with the boys on the hockey team, or applies for the job she's always wanted.

She got those things from me. But she also got the the stubborness, the talking more than listening, the allergies, and the temper.

And this is where we push and pull. Her strengths and weaknesses, all jumbled up with mine. We both yell and stomp and flail arms around, trying to match the other's logic with reason. I fight with her more than I do anyone else. I sigh at her, walk away from her, question her, punish her. And in doing this, I fail to recognize the me in her.

It is me she is chasing after. And what she sees (and feels in her bones, marrow from the woman who bore and nursed her), she mirrors right back at me. Round and round we go. Chasing.

Oh, Ella, Ella. It is your 6th birthday. And I still don't yet know you, I still fail you, I still misguide you. We are the same, but you, you... you are so much more than the emotional, wild, stubborn streak I gave you. I'm sorry I don't see you. I'm sorry for not leading you better, in the way you should go. I'm sorry I'm still struggling at being me, unsure of how to empower you being you.

I will learn the bend of your bow, the bend of mine. We can string them together, and our arrows will fly.

Do you have one, the child who is most like you? The child you don't really know, but are somewhat sure you're probably messing up? Let's give one another (and them) some grace here.

We could've never planned this :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 3}

03 October 2012

So some days (ok, some weeks) we don't menu plan.

We go to church with nary a chicken nor a beef roast in the crock pot. This is mostly unintentional. CBS Sunday Morning was on and there was a story about old people collecting art for the sake of art and then there had to be showers and hair washing and three of four wardrobe changes for the girl (red power ranger suit does not a church outfit make), and we had houseguests.

And the weather... well, it was just too beautiful to not take advantage of it.

Throwing caution (and $20) to the wind, we embarked on an impromptu picnic in the grass of the art gallery. A meandering 3 year old explored metal sculptures. A free story-time was offered for preschoolers in the vestibule of a japanese water garden. For every one of us, a near-perfect moment in time.

"We could've never planned this," Matt says. The blue sky, the autumn breeze, the warm footpath, or the gallery storytime.

It's true: we could've never planned this.

So sometimes, we don't plan at all... and see where the wind takes us.

When was the last time you said, "Forget the crockpot; I want sandwiches in the park!"?

The baptism :: 31 days of messy parenting {day 2}

02 October 2012

And this is how it happened.

No fanfare. No video cameras. No real cameras, even. Only a few camera phones in our midst, and only one photo.

But there was food. And friends. People who have loved him and taught him, want to know about his day and share their food and drink with him. His little friends, too: four boys he loves, wanting to be their leader.

It was long in coming, but quickly decided. He'd been thinking about it, weighing it. His need to fly under the radar - to not get too noticed - kept him from walking up, from saying yes, from wading into muddy lakes with near strangers. But still, always, he kept his heart and mind open to it. And when it was time, it was time.

Our friends - a dear new sister walking with us these last two years here - giving testimony and laying down their heads in cool water. He came up to us both and said, "I'm ready now," and just like that: baptized.

I admit I felt my heart in my throat. My first response: "Not right now, honey." This was not my plan, not how I envisioned it, not what I expected. But it was His plan, and I had to let go. 

I had to let him go.

So it happened, not in the Irish Sea with cold crashing waves. There wasn't time to plan a verse, a speech, a new name we were to choose for him. Instead, it happened in the cool of a summer pool, our pastor here stepping aside so Matt, father to our boy, could baptize his son.

Unplanned and clumsy. Beautiful abstraction. A boy saying yes to God. 

Hard to fit all that on a Certificate of Baptism.

What moments have left you undone, events you have planned that didn't turn out? 

I'm a Mess :: 31 Days of Messy Parenting {day 1}

01 October 2012

Here I go again, committing to another round of 31 Days... posts in October. Last year I spent every day of the month sharing my thoughts on (and images from) Living in Transition. It was a stretching month, attempting to intentionally embrace and thrive amidst the daily chaos of life, family and ministry transitions.

Ironically enough, we're still transitioning, though it appears we're finally transitioning out of one phase and into the next... but more on that later!

This month I'm pulling back the curtain a bit, so to speak. I've been wanting to write for awhile on how we parent and lead the wee three. I've already shared a bit on Equally Shared Parenting, our Family Purpose Statement, and our nighttime rituals, but I've felt the need to go more in depth about what happens when we get things right, what happens when we get things oh so wrong, and how the apartment looks in between cooking meals and breaking up fights.

I vascillated between a couple of titles. 31 Days of Lazy Parenting was catchy, but my friend Tom assured me it wasn't laziness I was going for. 31 Day of Laissez-Faire Parenting sounds worldly and romantic, but it was hard to fit on a blog button.

So what kind of parent am I?

I'm a messy one.

The thing is, and if you read my blog regularly, you already know this: I'm a mess. My writing, my cleaning, my organization and - yes, even my parenting - is messy. I'm a screw up with near perfectionist tendencies, meaning I try very hard to get things not quite right most of the time.

So, with the hopes of being brave, sharing our stories and the sometimes beautiful mess that follows us wherever we go, I hope you'll join me in 31 Days of Messy Parenting. And I hope you'll share your messy stories with me, too.

Oh, and hey! I have a button! Copy, paste and share. :)

The River Into Words