Saturday, October 7, 2017

Lego Heart

To my dear daughter,

Watching you grow is amazing. I can tell that your heart is learning how to process lots of new feelings and emotions. They say that 7 years old is the "Age of Reason," which means you're beginning to see the world around you and understand how you fit into it. I'm not surprised that certain stories on the news break your heart. I'm not surprised that you pine for your Daddy all day long when you're not with him. I'm not surprised that your girl Squad has gone through a little girl drama. And I'm not surprised that certain boys are starting to catch your eye and make you feel giddy. All of these new feelings of yours freak me out a little, but when I stop to think about them I know that they are all normal and healthy and good for you.

I just want you to remember something important. This might not mean much now, but it will start to mean a lot more the older you get. You are still growing. Your heart is still growing. God is building your heart and your character like a giant Lego set. Every feeling you have, every friend you make, every boy you like, is just one tiny piece of your giant Lego heart. It doesn't look like much now because you only have a few pieces. Those pieces are precious and those pieces are important, but they're not your whole heart. So don't get too upset if your friends don't get along, or you miss your Daddy, or your feelings get hurt, because all of those experiences will help make you who you are. You might not like the way your Lego heart looks when some of those wonky feelings get put into place, but I promise that when it's done, it will be God's Great Masterpiece. 

You are a beautiful work in progress. Be kind. Have courage. Trust God to give you exactly what you need. I love watching you grow, one Lego piece at a time.

My love forever and ever,


Friday, May 12, 2017

Celebrating Like a Mother!

For the fifth year in a row, my amazing friends have helped me put together Swag Bags for mothers in need.  We didn't just make a few this year, we made thirty bags for moms and twenty bags for kids!  For more information on the inspiration behind this little project, read this post or this post. 

In the past, our bags have always gone to the Women's Crisis Center of Northern Kentucky.  I connected with them for my original project five years ago and have since grown to love and admire their mission.  If you missed out on this year's Swag Bags, consider making a donation directly to the Crisis Center for Mother's Day.  They serve survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.  Their shelter is anonymous and residents are surrounded by loving, sensitive staff which provide comprehensive services for the women and their children.  It's a phenomenal organization.  I look forward to showering those mamas with gifts each year, because they are truly the forgotten warriors of motherhood.

However, with a growing amount of interest in this project, and after lots of reflection and prayer on the whole issue, I asked friends this year to double our efforts and also support women and children in The Welcome House.  This shelter is for homeless women and children and I am learning some wonderful details about their organization.  I was worried that asking for 30 items this year would be asking too much, but my friends and family totally delivered!  In fact, it was the biggest, most well-attended Swag Bag stuffing party I've ever had and almost all the women involved mentioned that we could go bigger next year!  So look out, year is going to rock your socks off!  

I'd like to send out a HUGE thank you to everyone involved in this project.  The organization is the easy part, but my friends and family did the hard part: the shopping, deal hunting, drop offs, Pay Pal donations, social media sharing, and showing up for the big party to make these bags as amazing as they could be!  I know that our shelter mamas are going to feel so special on Mother's Day!  I can't thank everyone enough.

I've said it once and I'll say it again: the only way - the BEST WAY - to celebrate Mother's Day is to lift other mamas up.  And we didn't just lift the spirits of some mamas in the shelters this year.  I could see the spirits of everyone involved become lifted and lighter as we worked together to serve. Thanks, friends!  Happy Mother's Day!

Here are some picture recaps from the whole project: 

Thirty bags filled up my living room!  Next year we may need to rent a hall!

I forgot to take a picture of all the goodies IN the bags, but trust me....these moms are getting hooked UP!

I thought it would be fun to let all the kids work on the the kid bags.

They did the best they could, but some Moms had to jump in and help get it all ready to go!

Writing out the cards and putting the finishing touches on the bags!

Ten ladies stuffed the bags, but countless more helped make it happen!

Van full of love!

Margot helped Mrs. Tracey load the gifts into the elevator at the WCC.  Albert tried to sabotage.

Sylvia tried to carry four bags down the street in Covington!  It was a tough job.
This project has brought many unexpected blessings, including a slew of new friends through social media, but the biggest one has been watching my kids' hearts grow through giving.  They know what shelters are for and they know it is our job to love the homeless and those leaving a dangerous situation.  In fact, Sylvia would tell you that she's trying to "love fearlessly," and I can tell you that I'm trying to do that, too.

If you are interested in learning more about volunteering at the Crisis Center or the Welcome House, check out their websites (linked above) or contact me for more information.  The work I've done with the Crisis Center has broken my heart wide open and I highly recommend giving your time, talents or treasures to this worthy organization!  I plan to work more closely with the Welcome House this year, so I'll keep everyone posted on what I learn.  Thanks again, friends!  Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Girls, It's Time

My precious babies,

Today was Inauguration Day and we officially have a new president.  I've been a little sad all day because he is not the candidate I voted for, but that's okay.  I spent the better part of my day bracing myself to hear his speech and steeling myself against the fear so that I could wear my best "public school teacher" face.  I did a great job!  My class watched the inauguration, we had a great discussion about respecting the office of The President, and I went on with the rest of my day appearing to be cool, calm and collected. my head I was composing all the things I want to say to you on a day like today.  

Here's what I want you to know.

His previous behavior is unacceptable.  It is unacceptable to objectify women, to suggest that it's okay to touch women without their permission or consent, or to brag about the ways he mistreats women.  That should be a deal breaker in a relationship.  I thought it would be a deal breaker in a president, but I was wrong.  Going forward, please know that this behavior is a DEAL BREAKER in any potential partner that you meet.  Who is in control of your body?  Say it with me - nobody but you! 

It is not okay to exclude people or to make people feel afraid.  Everyone you meet is special and beautiful and it's your job to respect them and welcome them into our classrooms, our churches and yes, even our homes.  Whether the person next to you is black or white, Christian or Muslim, gay or transgender or searching for the meaning of it all....your job is to smile and listen and find the good in their story.  Your job is to connect with them.  Connection is what you were built for.

Finally, I want you to know that there's a difference between complaining about something, fighting against something, and speaking up for something.  Let me break it down for you.  

Complaining gets you nowhere.  Complaining is a cancer that spreads from your lips to your heart to the hearts of those around you.  You will lose your friends, your job, your will lose everything from complaining, so don't even start.  

Fighting against something is a bit trickier.  Many people in our country want to fight against the administration, and rightly so, in my opinion.  But sometimes fighting against something leaves you so unhappy and sad that you can't see the good in the people around you.  I'm all for fighting against injustice, bigotry, racism, misogyny....but remember that the people you're fighting against are just that - they are people.  They are not perfect.  If they aren't willing to listen to you and find some common ground, your fight will be long and hard and scary.  Which brings me to the best option...

Standing up FOR something, which is completely different.  When you take all of those things that scare you and make you mad, then you find the opposite of those things - you've found the stuff you need to stand up for.  When you make a list of the things you want instead of the things you don't want, you've found something worth standing up for.  

Tomorrow, your Mama stands up.  

And I'm bringing you with me.

Tomorrow, we march in the Cincinnati Women's March on Washington.  It's a sister march to the REALLY BIG march happening in Washington DC.  I'm not sure what to expect here in Cincinnati, but I know that if I don't go, I'll regret it.  I know that if I stay home during this important moment in history, I'll be sad that I missed out.  I'm not marching to complain.  I'm not even marching to fight against things, although I do believe there is plenty to fight against.  I'm marching to stand up for the things that are important: freedom, justice, equality, hope and love.  And I don't know anyone who can argue with that!

Today was a bummer, but tomorrow.................

We March.

It's time, girls.  #BeLoud  God gave you that mighty voice for a reason and now it's time to use it.  No matter what happens, you'll be glad you did.

Love always and forever,

Note: The small boy would totally be joining us in the family hashtag, but he's still in diapers and he's considered a flight risk in any crowded situation.  After careful consideration, just the girls are going to the march.  His time will come.  You should hear the set of lungs on that kid.  All three of them, really.  This is what my kids were created to do.  #BeLoud  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Death Tower

Six weeks ago, I mentioned that the library is having a spooky story contest.  Sylvia was immediately hooked.  She stapled a ton of papers together (backwards, but whatever) and began to plan, write, draw and dream up the scariest possible situations to include in her story.  She talked about it every waking second of every day.  She asked for writing time instead of iPad time on the weekends.  I've never seen her work so hard for so long on one project.  It was such a joy to watch!

Last week, I asked her to put the finishing touches on her story so we could turn it in on time.  We sat down together and she showed me this little personal collection of words she's found to help her with her spelling!  She took a "Family" magazine from the doctor's office, found a picture in a book with the word "dragon" on it, and she pulled out a spelling list from weeks ago that had a few useful words on it.  I was beyond impressed!  When we looked at her story, it occurred to me that she had improved so much from the first page to the last page!  Six weeks of first grade is shining brightly throughout her little story.

So, without futher ado....I give you Sylvia's epic tale (transcribed in the captions)..............


The Death Tower

Once upon a time there was a tower.

The tower was a death tower with six dragons.

The death tower had six dragons and one giant dog.

The death tower had six dragons and one giant dog and two red eyed cats.

The death tower had six dragons and one giant dog and two red eyed cats and a poisonous mouse.

One day, a family went into the death tower.

The family went into the basement.  There were witches and there were giant spiders and ghosts.

The family was in the basement.  The mom was scared of the spiders.

The mom gets bitten by a spider and the mom dies.  Then the ghosts yell BOO!

The family raced up the stairs.

The family was scared and they were at the top of the tower.

The family jumped into a boat.  There were dragons, giant dogs, red eyed cats and poisonous mice.

The family jumped on a sea dragon and flew away.

Are you scared?!  I'm scared.  That poor mom!  I told her I love her story EVEN THOUGH the mom dies, so you know it must be good.   All of that terror and excitement and FEAR from such a sweet little girl....
Sylvia, first grade
I will never forget the night she decided to send the family into the basement.  She can running into Albert's room while I was putting him to bed and she shouted, "Mommy, LOOK!  They're in the basement and we all know that's a great place to get yourself KILLED!"  I laughed until I cried.  

Can she write a story or what?

Friday, May 6, 2016

Mother's Day 2016

In 2013 I had to rethink Mother's Day.  I've been a mom since 2010, but I think 2013 was my first Mother's Day and this post explains why.  Every year this mom gig gets a little more complicated and a little bit easier at the same time, if that makes any sense.  But one thing doesn't change - the unnerving fact that this job is so hard and I have so much.  This year is my fourth attempt to take back Mother's Day - to yank that celebration away from the jewelry and the spa days and the fancy brunches...and to put it in the hands of mothers who are doing harder things than I'll ever be able to do.

This year, we made swag bags for 15 women living at the Women's Crisis Center shelter.  The WCC advocates for women who are survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse.  These are the mothers who are doing the hardest things: the mom who took the kids and left; the mom who sleeps in a room full of strangers so the baby she's carrying can be born without fear; the mom who files a restraining order against the father of her children - and whose children often don't understand why - because she's had enough and she is listening to that still, small voice inside of her that says, "You deserve better.  Your kids deserve better.  You should all be safe."  This is what Mother's Day is for.  It's not about gifts.  It's about being moms.

The swag bag stuffing party was surprisingly easy this year, even though we had a record number of mama bags and kid bags to fill.  Why was it easy?  Because of the generous donations of so many sweet friends and family....and because of the help of some special volunteers: Laura Lanthorn, my own Mama, and my sweet girls!  This was Sylvia's fourth swag bag party!  It took no prep to get her ready to fill bags.  The girls spent the afternoon with my mom and when they got home, the first thing they said was, "I WANT TO HELP!"  There was no whining.  There was no, "Can I keep this?"  There was only talk of GIVING, talk about how much the kids will LOVE the stuffed animals and the much the moms will LOVE this lipstick or this girls totally get it and that is the greatest Mother's Day gift I could ever ask for.

Here's what the party looked like before we got started.  Mind you...all of this was piled all over our house for two weeks, so Sylvain was happy to see it go!  Also...I did not buy one single thing on this couch.  Not a thing!  That's how awesome my friends and family are.  I know some really GREAT people.

Stuffing bags...trying not to mix it all up!

Goodie bags for the kids.  The girls donated a couple of their own Star Wars bags.  I wrote the age and gender of each kid on the tag for the bag and Sylvia worked really hard to make sure all of the items in the bags were appropriate.  I became super confused about the whole thing, but she had it all figured out!

The cards for each Mother's Day gift included a $20 gift card to Super Cuts!  My stepmom had that great idea, so I hope the mamas love it.

Loading up the car!  Sylvain took one look at how I was trying to make it happen and he promptly emptied the van, collapsed a bunch of seats and started over.  I'm glad he did, because it barely fit with all the donations!

Here's a little peek at the swag bags: shampoo and conditioner, tampons (glamorous, I know, but SO useful, right?), two kinds of lotion (practical and smell-goody), hand sanitizer, deodorant, hair accessories, hand soap, a pen and notepad, make up, razors, chapstick and fancy chocolate!

...all in a fancy tote bag, with a sweet begonia flower on the side!  Just a little note about the flowers: we STILL had $75 in cash donations last night and I wanted to get each mom a little potted flower to go with their gift.  A shelter employee once told me that the women like to have a little flower or plant that they can take with them to their new place when they leave, so I asked Sylvain to take the $75 and see what he could do with it today.  No surprise...the man totally delivered!  He took the kids to a local garden shop and got 14 begonias in pots for $74!!!!  God is good all the time, people.  All the time.

I didn't take many pictures of the kids' bags, but they are full of snacks, coloring books, picture books, stuffed animals, bubbles, play doh, notebooks, and glow sticks.  I hope the kids love them.  But more importantly, I hope they know that their moms love them, and that we love them, too.

As if these swag bags weren't enough, we found out at the eleventh hour that one of the moms in shelter is expecting a baby ANY MINUTE NOW and she has nothing.  I asked her to make a list.  I posted the list with a plea for any help anyone could give, and I didn't expect much because everyone I know had already given so much.  

You guys.....EVERY ITEM on this mama's list is taken care of.  It's done.  She has everything she needs PLUS extra cash to go pick out her own stroller.  My friends are amazing...because God is so good!

So tonight my van is full of LOVE from countless family and honor I do not take lightly.  I'll deliver these small tokens of love to the shelter tomorrow, and then I'll enjoy Mother's Day with my family and my own mother and grandmother - not because I have to, but because I want to and I can't wait.  Mother's Day has officially been RECLAIMED!  Take that, jewelry commercial.  I win!

P.S.  I've been working really hard lately to discern between my will and God's will for me.  I firmly believe that God's will includes coordinating my friends and family who are giving so generously to these shelter mamas.  I am nothing but a pair of hands...attached to a really pushy and wordy girl who isn't afraid to ask for help! 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Three Pictures

Sometimes, when I'm all alone and feeling nostalgic, I like to pretend that I've gone back in time and I'm sitting next to my younger self.  I tell my younger self all kinds of important things.  I usually visit my younger self when she's in college, probably because it was the most up-and-down part of my life and I spent a lot of time wondering how things would work out.

Last night I played a fun game where I showed my younger self the three most recent pictures of my kids.  Here are the pictures and here's what my younger self had to say about them:

Me: Here's your oldest child.   What do you think about that? 

Younger Self:  I have a French kid?  You're joking!  She looks...adorable and contemplative and...awesome.  She can't be mine.  Really?!  That's my kid?  There's no way.  Okay, if you say so!  I bet she's amazing.

Me:  Here's your youngest child.  What do you think about him?

Younger Self:  A baby BOY?!  Really?  In overalls?  That nose!  Those cheeks!  Are you sure he's mine?  How adorable is that kid?!  I'll take him!  What a precious baby.  

Me:  Here's your middle child.  What do you think about her?..........

Younger Self:  Oh, yeah. Yup.  No doubt.  She's totally my kid.  

I enjoyed that little exchange with my younger self and it got me to thinking....

Sylvia and Albert have turned out to be kids I never would have DREAMED about in a million years.  Never.  I never would have thought I'd have those kids.  They're amazing!  They're cool!  They're beyond my wildest dreams!!! 

But Margot?  Margot is the kid I always dreamed I'd have. She's amazing and cool, but....she's me.  She's mine.  She's the kid of my dreams!

And I don't think it's better one way or the other, I just think it's interesting.  I consider myself beyond blessed to have these three tiny miracles in my house, but the way they are turning out is so fun to watch!  They're all so special and so amazingly different from each other.  I love that I have kids who are more than I could hope for and I love that I have (at least) one kid who is turning out to be the spitting image of her mother.  I'd like to think there are worse ways to turn out.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Getting Babies to Bed

I found this post in my drafts and it never got published.  It's almost a year old and I'm happy to report that my kids are now great sleepers.  Margot still asks four thousand questions before bed and Albert still wakes up and fusses a few times a night, but the important thing is MAMA is getting plenty of sleep these days!  This was fun to read again and I wanted to post it - better late than never!

I read Jen's post on Sleep tonight and I was inspired to post about our own battles and triumphs with baby sleep.  I am obsessed with the topic of sleep, perhaps because it's such a luxury for myself these days, but I also want to document our own journey through three babies.  I truly believe that all of our family's health and happiness revolves around sleep.  I also believe that there is something special about walking around in the evenings while kids are sleeping....something sacred about just....being....after all of the kids have gone to bed.

There's the peace and quiet, of course, but there's also a sense of such safety and responsibility.  I tend to pat myself on the back every night while I pick up toys and run the dishwasher, toss towels into the hamper and pull in the picnic blanket from the front yard.  These three tiny bodies are safe and sound, asleep and happy, because I made them that way!  I trained them that way.  I put in the hours of routines - baths, jammies, snacks, teeth brushing, allergy meds, vitamins, the nightly hunt for dou-dou bear who is NEVER EVER EVER where he is supposed to be, bedtime stories, and more stories, and now listening to Sylvia read her own stories, lullabies, prayers, four THOUSAND questions (Mommy?  Are you going to school tomorrow?  Mommy?  Where's Daddy?  Mommy?  Can I have a donut?  Mommy?  What does "spy" mean?  Mommy? I need another hug and a kiss.  Mommy?  My friends aren't tucked in!  Mommy?  Is it my birthday?  Mommy?  I want to be the pink doggy!  Mommy?  Mommy?  Mommy?  Mommy?)

My almost 3 year old and my 5 year old have completely surrendered to the bedtime routine.  When we went to France, I was able to put them to bed any time, anywhere (except the airplane), because if you followed the right pattern, their brains would totally switch off and they'd sleep all night long.

But the baby...

Ohhhhhh, the babies.....

There is nothing more difficult than getting a baby to sleep.  Nothing.  And there's nothing more infuriating, humbling, and emotionally draining than listening to a baby cry in the middle of the night.  It is pure torture.  And it's even worse when there are older siblings in the house who have been properly sleep trained and who MIGHT WAKE UP if the baby keeps crying and then all hell will break loose because you have to do the whole routine again in the middle of the damn night.  As a nursing Mom, this problem is compounded because running upstairs to nurse the baby back to sleep is SO EASY but also so annoying and sometimes it was just downright impossible.  This is where new mamas lose their minds.

I remember, with all three of my kids, the breaking point.  There was always a night where I had already been up at least two times, and when the baby started crying again, for the third or fourth time, less than an hour after I last fed them....I just laid in bed and cried.  I cried:  Go to sleep!  Just go back to sleep.  I can't go up there again.  I can't get out of this bed.  I can't listen to you cry anymore but I can't physically move from under these covers and so I might as well just die.  I'll die right here listening to you cry.  I'll be on the news because I'm the world's worst mother who died while she listened to her perfectly healthy baby cry.  And you'll never leave your therapist's office because you'll know that your mother died listening to you cry.  So for the love of Jesus, just go back to sleep.  Just sleep.  Please sleep.   

For my first baby, this only happened once.  My husband and I worked hard, as a team, to make sure it didn't happen again.  We let her cry it out.  She wailed for many nights, but she figured it out.  She was sleeping through the night by six months.

For my second baby, it took so much longer.  We were so worried about the older sister.  I used quite a few sick days to catch up on lost sleep after going to her room again and again, trying to soothe her but always popping the boob in her mouth to just get her to stay quiet.  I ended up getting used to the multiple night feedings.  I decided it was easier to just run upstairs and nurse her than to listen to her cry.  My husband's job required a lot from him, and he took our oldest along to a daycare in the same building, so I didn't rely on him in the middle of the night at all.  I just nursed.  All night long.  I became a zombie, but somewhere between 6 and 9 months old, she started sleeping for longer stretches, every once in a while she'd sleep all night long, and then suddenly I realized that I had achieved a string of three or four nights of solid sleep myself.  Life became sunshine and rainbows again and we immediately decided to have another baby.

This third baby.....bless the boy.  He is the world's happiest, least managed, most satisfied baby.  I can confidently say, at 11 months old, that I will not die of sleep deprivation because he is FINALLY sleeping through the night.  My husband was much more available in the middle of the night this time around, but I still didn't sleep.  After the breaking point with this one, my husband would go upstairs in between feedings to rock, pat, sing and soothe him to sleep, but once the four-hour mark had passed I'd just run up there and nurse him.  I knew when he was six months old that he would be our last baby...that I just can't do this again.  That all of this sleep training is too hard on me and is therefore too hard on our whole family.  Like the second baby, he started sleeping for longer stretches at night.  I started ignoring the "fussing" and started to wait for the real crying, but lately, the fussing finds an end and he goes right back to sleep.  Precious boy.  There is nothing more beautiful than a sleeping baby, but only because the opposite of a sleeping baby is a screaming baby, so a sleeping baby is amazing.

And now, here I sit.  With three sleeping babies.  Five years of hard work.  An 11 month old who finally gets it.  An almost 3 year old who naps on command.  A 5 year old who practically puts herself to bed.  I want to travel back in time to visit myself in December.  I want to give a hug to myself while I was baking lactation cookies at 10:00 at night and shaking because I was so scared the baby was going to wake up before I could get an hour of sleep in.  I want to tell myself that it's going to be okay and that very, very soon I would have three sleeping babies, but it wouldn't have mattered.  You can't gift yourself sleep.  You can't change the fact that losing sleep makes people CRAZY!  All I can do is decide that it was a fun ride while it lasted but now we're ready to work hard, play hard and SLEEP hard at our house!

I will say this - after six years of pregnancy/nursing, I am looking forward to watching my kids grow.  I am looking forward to sleeping all night, playing all day, and getting my brain back to a normal state of being.  I've been an absolute lunatic.  It's a wonder that my husband and children still like me.  It's time to be me again.

Aaaand, it's time to go to bed!