Monthly Archives: January 2013

Beauty From Ashes

Dear Middle Child,

It finally happened. I caught a glimpse of beauty rising from the ashes. . . A lone flower blooming through the cracks of the broken flower pot. I wasn’t even aware that it happened until your Daddy told me about it last night. And the knowledge of it makes my heart feel like it’s warming up to sing. . .

Yesterday afternoon was a rough one for you. You found out your sister was going somewhere you could not go. . . .and try as you might, you could not talk me into letting you go with her. And you were mad. No, that’s not even a strong enough word. You were FURIOUS, enraged and angry to the point of hating allthethings. You wanted me to hold you as you cried, and I did. Your angry tears soaking my t-shirt for many minutes of mourning, negotiating fury as you pleaded and cried and yelled because you wanted your sister to stay at home, or to be allowed to go with her. Enter Daddy.

Daddy had been gone for a week on a work trip and up until the rage began, you could not WAIT to see him when he got home. When he walked in, I had you sobbing on one shoulder and your baby brother fussing in the other arm, so Daddy tried to take you from me to help out. You would not hear of it. You yelled, “NO!” and buried your face further into my neck, so he took your brother so I could focus on you. You would not hug him. You would not kiss him. You would not talk to him. You would only hang on my neck and angrily rebuff all those who attempted to talk to you. This went on for close to half an hour. Then I had to leave to take your sister to her event. You were calmer by then, likely somewhat appeased by promises of a Happy Meal upon my return. You not-so-begrudgingly agreed to watch Max & Ruby with Daddy and your brother as I left.

By the time I got back, the storm was over and you were your normal cheerful self again. The evening passed pleasantly and you went to bed without any arguments. Then Daddy described what happened a few minutes after I left. . .and my glimmer of hope was ignited.
“A little while after you left, we were watching a show together when she turned to me and gave me a hug and a kiss. She said she was sorry. . . she was mad when I got home and didn’t want to kiss me, but now was glad to see me and give me a kiss.”

WOW. You, my little 3-year-old hurricane realized that you may have hurt Daddy’s feelings with your earlier behavior. You, in your sweet, intuitive way understood that some explanation for your behavior was helpful. You used your words to describe your feelings from before and offered affection to show that it wasn’t about Daddy. You understood that it was okay to have your feelings…but that saying you were sorry for how you acted was important. And you learned all that from me. Specifically from my mistakes. Especially from the infamous maple syrup incident. And from hearing me say, “I’m sorry.”

Trust me, I know that this doesn’t make it okay that I yelled. It’s still not okay at all. But what’s wonderful is that even in the midst of being raised by a broken mommy, YOU are flourishing. You are growing. You are becoming. You are gaining insight into being sensitive to the feelings of others. You are learning to say you’re sorry. God is making beautiful things out of the dust. “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28 NIV-emphasis mine)

So it does help me to be okay with the fact that I’m not perfect. And that I fail and get back up and keep going. And it gives me hope that my love for you is big enough to overcome the hurt I cause you. And that God’s love is big enough for both of us.

Love, Mama

Maple Syrup

My Dearest Littles,

I blew it today. Just completely blew it. I offer no excuses. I’m the grown-up and I should have acted like it. And I’m sorry. The only thing I can truly promise you is that I will keep trying to do better.

The day started off rocky, nighttime hours of broken sleep typically drive my coping skills back to a minimum level. As in, I can feed you and drive you where you need to go, but that’s about all that comes easily. It’s a weakness of mine, and sadly at this point in time there’s really nothing I can do about the particular circumstances that are robbing me of sleep. I still wouldn’t wish these months of night feedings and night snugglings and night comfortings away just so I wouldn’t have days like today. I just wish I handled the situations that come up better than I do when my mood is already darkened with exhaustion.

So that’s where we started. Tired. And cranky. All of us really. And I barked orders to rush us out the door in time for school. We got in the car only to discover that the fuel light was on. What would have been a perfectly on time morning was now running late. So I demanded silence. I didn’t want to listen to you talk to me. Sitting here now in the quiet dark, I’m wishing I’d chosen differently. To hear your thoughts and chat with you a bit. It would give me a bright point in the day to look back on. But I didn’t, I talked on my cell phone and listened to the radio instead.

As the day went on, more and more things seemed to go wrong. Not really wrong so much as not according to my best laid plans and out of my control. I didn’t get the nap I’d been counting on to make up for the lost sleep. An unexpected doctor’s appointment threw more into our schedule. Chores that had to be done in preparation for tomorrow took longer than I expected. The littlest of you was fussy, the middle was whiny, the eldest just needed a little extra TLC and that’s when it happened. I exploded all over you. . .over maple syrup. Such a simple thing that became something so awful. I fed you dinner later than usual because of the chores I mentioned. I gave you your baths earlier than normal and before dinner, even knowing that you’d likely get messy while eating (you, my sweet youngest daughter, often wear more of your food than you eat). And true to form, my darling middle child, you attempted to drink the rest of your maple syrup. You got it in your hair, on your skin. . .everywhere. You were a sticky mess. And I did not see a 3 year old enjoying her meal with gusto. I saw a need for another bath, yet another chore on my verylonglist. You wanted me to hold you as soon as you saw that I was unhappy, but I did not hold you. I yelled. I yelled that we don’t drink maple syrup. I yelled that you’d made a huge mess. I yelled that I was going to have to give you another bath. And yelled and yelled. I grabbed you not so gently and took you to the tub, while you cried, your little scared face searching mine for some trace of the loving mommy you normally see. And I scrubbed you and lectured you about maple syrup while you sobbed and shook and said sorry and asked for hugs. I yelled at you, eldest daughter, when you tried to talk to me about something unrelated. I ignored your cries, little boy-child as I yelled and berated your older sister about maple syrup. This is the part I’m not proud of. I’m still sitting here trying not to hate myself for my reaction. . .because I know that hating myself will not lead to change. It never does. Changing something small leads to change, and that’s what I’m getting to.

After your second bath, I gave in to your request for hugs, and you collapsed into me, your little wet body sobbing and shaking still as you tried to understand what had just happened. And so I started to talk to you. I took a deep breath and told you I was sorry. Sorry for yelling. Sorry for being mean. Just sorry. I asked you how you felt and tried to give you words to use for your feelings. Scared, sad, angry just to name a few. I told you I had gotten mad and yelled and I shouldn’t have. And that I was so sorry I had scared you and made you sad and angry. You started to calm as you searched my face and saw the mommy that you trust returning. You told me we would try not to yell at each other anymore and I agreed that I would also try. You used your words to tell me how awful my behavior had made you feel and we cuddled and calmed and soothed and snuggled together. And I realized that for better or for worse, I am your mommy. I don’t get a do-over when I hurt you. I can’t go back and not yell. But I can own it. I can tell you that I made a horrible mistake. I can try to do better next time. I can show you how much I love you and help you find words to explain what’s going on inside. That is what I can do for now. . .and maybe one day soon, the yelling will stop for good. I hope today is the last day I will ever yell at you, but I can’t make that a promise.

I hate being both the one that causes you pain and the one that teaches you how to cope with your pain. Maybe somehow in the midst of my brokenness you will learn skills to keep your heart from hardening and scarring and forgetting how to love. My prayer is that you learn more from me about embracing your feelings than you do about hurting. And I will keep trying. . .and I will do better. Even tonight, I have some thoughts about how to keep this from happening again. Baths after dinner, not before. . .deep breaths when I feel myself getting upset. . .forcing a quiet, low voice when I feel the urge to shout. . .And I hope by making that small change, I really will be different the next time I’m upset about something as silly as maple syrup. Thank you, all three, for teaching me so much about love and grace and forgiveness and second chances.

Love, Mama

Keep on Dancin’

Dear Youngest Daughter:

Exuberant. That is the word that comes to my mind every time I attempt to describe you. You are so full of life it takes my breath away sometimes. You live life in the extremes of emotion. One minute you are on the highs of euphoric happiness, the next in the midst of a tantrum to rival all tantrums. . .but your happyexuberantloudsingy place tends to be where you most often dwell. And I love this about you.

You were my happiest, most content baby by far. Nothing much bugged you. You slept all night by 6 weeks. Rarely cried. Loved to snuggle. As you left babyhood and grew into a toddler, you kept that constant smile mostly in place. Now as you navigate the opinionated side of toddler-hood, you still smile most of the time, but the turmoil of wanting your own way often clouds your sunny sky with very stormy storm clouds. And this is is where this broken mommy is learning her lessons these days.

You see, your big sister rarely ever threw a tantrum as a toddler. I’d gently correct her for touching things that were off limits, or not following a rule and that was it. She basically never did it again. And so I patted myself on the back that I must have this toddler parenting thing all figured out. Then you came along. . .and WOW, I realized that your sister’s compliance had little to do with my parenting and everything to do with her personality. You were the tiny toddler who opened the same cabinet I’d told you “no-no” about 25 times in an hour. . .who needed to touch ALLTHETHINGS everywhere we went, no matter how many times I tried to stop you. You were you and not like her at all and I suddenly realized that I had nothing at all figured out and that parenting you was like starting all over again because you had a different personality and completely different emotional make-up than your sister. My first real “A-ha!” moment with this happened when you were almost 2. I had been giving you a 5 minute warning for nap time (which you HATED) because it’s what I did with your sister and what all the parenting “experts” said to do. . .give warning before changing activities. For her, this worked wonderfully because she needed to have time to change gears. For you, this led to 5 minutes of crying and trying to negotiate your way out of nap time. And so I began the sneak attack. Five minutes before nap I’d change your diaper while we sang a silly song. . .then at nap time, I’d swoop down and take you to bed, declaring “Nap time!” as we entered your room. No more crying or resistance. You’d simply go right to sleep. And so I began to realize that there are no “experts” in the area of parenting. . .and that I had to become the expert on raising my little ones based on a wide variety of factors. Scary. But a big step in learning to be a better mommy.

That brings me to today. You are smack in the middle of toddler tantrumville and I find myself reeling with the sheer magnitude of your emotions. I was a bit shocked to learn from my therapist that what you are doing is NORMAL for a 2 year old. And that trying to discipline it out of you is counterproductive. Her advice? Love you through each strong wave of emotion. Sit with you while you cry and show you love. Empathize but stand firm.

This does not come naturally to me. Because when you scream, I find myself getting angry. It’s part of my brokenness and not something I’m proud of, but it is what it is. When you scream, I feel powerless and I feel the urge to take back that power by force. I want to scream back at you. . .or to spank you in anger. . .or to run as far away from your little screaming, screeching, flailing frame as I can. This is a true confession. And sometimes I don’t handle it well. Now and then, I raise my voice. . .or leave the room, even though I know it’s not what you need. But I am learning. I’m building my own emotional muscles so that I can help you build yours. So as time goes on, more often than not, I can sit with you in your anger and sadness and grief. I can tell you that I know it’s SO hard not to get what you want and that I’m sorry it makes you sad. I can tell you I love you and that while I can’t give in to your demands to make the crying stop, I can hold you until you’ve sufficiently grieved the loss of whatever it is you’re demanding. I can teach you to take deep breaths and use your words. All the while, I’m giving myself the same advice, because the toddler inside of me is raging at the feeling of powerlessness brought on by your railing. And so we learn together. And that, my little spitfire, is nothing short of a miracle. It’s my gift to you and to myself. Because a few short years ago, staying with you in such a moment would not have been possible for me. It seems God knows which child I need at each stage of my healing process, and you are what I need for this moment in time.

Your little personality is so unique, people ask me all the time if I was like you as a child. The real answer is, I don’t actually know. I was not allowed to be loud, or to express wild emotion. Any type of exuberance was quashed in its early stages, because the grown-ups around me found it messy and annoying and unnecessary. I don’t blame those grown-ups because I feel the same urges to silence you. But I am determined to resist them as much as possible, because your little face demands it. I never want to see the light in those gorgeous twinkling eyes dimmed by my displeasure about you just being a kid. I can’t promise I’ll always get it right, but I do promise I’ll never quit learning and trying. So dance on, my little hurricane. You are a beautiful testament to the freedom I’m fighting for.

Love, Mama

Sorry Is Not a Dirty Word

Dear Eldest Daughter,

I’m sorry. Those are the words it seems I utter to you most often. I’m sorry I lost my temper. I’m sorry I was cranky and made you feel like it was your fault. I’m sorry I’m not the patient mommy you deserve.  I’m sorry that it seems by default that the eldest child is subjected to the most experimental phase of a parenting career, and that you have been my experiment. For all those things, I am truly sorry.

But also, thank you. . .because through the short years of your young life, I have learned so much. YOU have taught me so much. When you were tiny, I tried to do everything “right.” I put you down often so I didn’t “spoil” you. I got you on a schedule as early as possible because the books all said that was good for you. I let you cry sometimes because I didn’t want you to become dependent on me for all your soothing needs. All things I have since learned are not necessarily the right way to do things, but with you I was finding my way, desperately wanting to give you the best I had to offer, but honestly not sure what the best was at that time. So I tried things. Not always the right things, but fortunately, you and I have developed a bit of a rhythm now, and I’m starting to better understand what it is that makes you tick. 

You are my most anxious child, and I take some responsibility for that. Perhaps in my determination to teach you to self-soothe, I allowed that to happen. . .or maybe you just inherited a tendency toward anxiety genetically from me. Either way (or both ways) I once felt guilty for. Now I’m beginning to realize that I can only parent you with the tools I have at any given time. . .and that if you need help with that anxiety when you’re older and I can’t be enough, what I can do is get you the help you need, because I know what it’s like, and I know the resources available to manage it.

I’m sorry I don’t “spend time with you” the way your little heart craves. You say this to me often and it breaks my heart a little every time. What you don’t know is that the half hour we played “pretend” or the talent show I watched you and your sister perform in the living room was actually a little more than I had to give. . .but I gave it anyway, because I love you so very much. Truly, deeply I love you, even when I struggle to show it in the ways your “love language” can receive. I want you to understand that the struggle to do the things you want from me is not about you at all. It’s about me and the fact that being emotionally present with you requires me to be emotionally present with the child inside of me. . .and it’s the child inside of me that sits in a dark corner and hides because playing pretend reminds her of all the times she craved attention and didn’t get it.

But you.  .sweet, kind, gentle you. . .keep asking for that time and this makes me glad. Because even though I feel guilty that I don’t yet give you all the time with me you need, you still want what I have to give. And that, my little love, makes me all the more determined to find the strength to give you more and more every day. I have faith that as freedom continues to find its way into my heart, I will be able to spend more time with you, doing those little girl things you love. And that some day soon, I will feel pure joy as we set up our living room fort and pretend our hearts out. It’s coming. I feel it. 

But until that day when the joy outweighs the angst, I will continue to give you all that I can muster. Because if there’s one thing I want you to take with you throughout your childhood, it’s that you’re worth it. You’re worth the battle I fight against my dark places. You’re worth the hard work I do in therapy every week. You’re worth it all. . .and more. And I will continue to tell you I’m sorry and work to get it right the next time until I actually get it right the next time. Because you’re an awesome, flexible, kind, loving little girl. . .and you’re totally worth it. And as we perfect our emotional dance between mother and daughter, there is one thing I have no doubt that you will learn from me. . .how to say you’re sorry. <3

Love, Mama

About My Letters

My letters are born from my desire to share my thoughts and feelings with my children as I learn how to be a better parent to them. One day when they’re older and have kids of their own, they will look back on their childhood as everyone does and see the flaws and mistakes I made in their upbringing. Explaining things to them then would be difficult at best because we tend to forget the angst of the moment as each learning experience becomes a memory grayed by time and overshadowed by new learning experiences. So while I hope to have lots of dialogue with my children as adults, I want to record these things while they are happening, fresh in my heart and mind. Not only so that they will later have insight into the way they were raised, but also so I can better understand myself. . .

As many of us do, I struggle with anxiety, depression and OCD. . .some stemming from my personality, some aggravated by a tumultuous childhood. My parents did their best to raise me through their own pain and brokenness, but it inevitably left some scars. Because I don’t want to repeat the past, I find myself floundering at times, wondering how best to be with my own children as they grow. With the help of therapy, my faith in Jesus and his life-changing power and a genuine desire to raise this new generation with less emotional baggage than I carry myself, I am growing and changing every day. I am not perfect. Some days I am not even very good at it, but I keep trying, and learning and apologizing and loving my kids the best ways I can. And on the days when I get more wrong than I get right, I remind myself that they are worth the effort. . .worth the pain of the fight. . and that I was made to be their mother and to be a part of their story as they were made to be a part of mine.

And so I write these letters. Some will be happy, as I discover some new way to connect or understand the best ways to handle the difficult situations and emotional twists and turns that inevitably come with raising kids. Some will be filled with intense sadness and regret as I make mistakes and learn from my failures. But all will be as open and honest and real as I can make them. My hope in making my struggle public is that other parents with similar battles will find hope and encouragement here.

My gift to my children is that I will not give up. I will continue to fight the darkness that some days makes it difficult to be with myself, much less with my kids. I will work every day to be a better mom than I was the day before and I will own my mistakes as they happen. And I will learn to love them well, because I love them with all that I am.