Saturday, February 3, 2018

Head Case

We drove along the hilly road towards the shopping area on the south side of town, busy Christmas music blaring as we stopped and started through red and green lights as part of the lunchtime traffic.

Perusing a bunch of bustling store aisles for the remaining odds and ends on my Christmas shopping list with three little ones in tow wasn’t going to be easy, especially when they hadn’t had their lunch yet.  And the busted handle on Holden’s car seat would make things even more challenging.  I’d discovered the day before that its locking mechanism had suddenly become faulty—that instead of clicking in place when set upright for carrying, sometimes it would slide back when lifted, and then the seat and buckled baby would unexpectedly dump forward like a load of coal, giving me heart palpitations in the process.

Still, it made sense for me to get this trip over with.  I needed to go car seat shopping, for one.  And taking the kids with me now instead of venturing out during some of my elusive free time was totally worth it.  Plus, it would be good for the kids to get out of the house.  They’d enjoy looking at all of the flashy Christmas d├ęcor and I’d let them scope out the toys.  I’d get them chicken nuggets for lunch at the food court, and they could run around in the mall play area while sneaking peeks at Santa in his big, comfy chair nearby. 

We’d be driving in the opposite direction with full tummies and shopping bags shivering in the back of the minivan before we knew it. 

We were going to get through this.  It was going to be fine.

I just hadn’t thought to consider whether everyone else would make it through our little outing unscathed.

…Because not everyone would.

Hobby Lobby was our first stop.  Trying to safely carry the wonky car seat through the parking lot while holding my busy little boy’s hand was the trickiest part.  Other than that, everything went pretty smoothly there. Each and every delicate display of holiday knick-knacks remained miraculously intact in spite of our presence.  We especially enjoyed looking at a giant Santa figurine with a “nice list” that had Alice’s name printed on it in fancy cursive lettering.  And Rowen didn’t even throw a fit when it was time to hang the shiny motorcycle ornament back on its hook when it was time to check out.

Although externally, things went off without a hitch at Hobby Lobby, something subtle started in my mind when I smiled at an elderly lady in the entrance of the store.  I had just switched Holden from his car seat to the carrier and I felt like a mama kangaroo with her newest little joey curled up cozily in her pouch and her other two roos hitching a ride upon the cart.  I fully expected the woman to smile back at us with a rosy-cheeked, gleamy-eyed look that said, “What a precious handful you’ve got there!”  Because I’d seen the look many times before. But instead, I was met with a deadpan stare that seemed to say, “Yeah.  I see you’ve got kids.  And?”    

It caught me off guard.  Initially, it was just this funny little thing that happened, but quickly, quietly it snowballed into this menacing question that repeated itself every time I encountered another person:  What does this person think when they see me?

It’s rare for anything good to come from asking that question and I wish I’d realized I’d been asking it, quite compulsively, before it was too late.

It was hard enough trying to be a smart and savvy shopper when my ears were being assaulted by a toddler whining directly into my face and a preschooler complaining that her legs were getting tired, but when I invited the nerve-wracking element of what other people may or may not have been thinking into our personal shopping errand, it was almost too much to take.

For each and every strained and stressed-out move I made, my mind easily whipped up new labels that the people around me could’ve potentially been placing upon me, the frizzy-haired freak in the pea coat and sweat pants.  Most of these labels had to do with my performance as a mother.  Over and over, I imagined them seeing me as “that mom who (fill in the blank).” 

One moment I was that mom who enables excessive whining.  The next, I was the one who’s too hard on her kids.   I was also that mom who tortures her kids by repeatedly saying “just a minute” when we all know things are going to take much longer than that.  I imagined them posting open letters on social media to “the mom at the store who behaves as though her business is more important than everybody else’s just because she has kids,” or to “that mom who keeps retaking pictures of her fidgeting preschooler with her phone, forcing the poor thing to stand still and smile long after the authentic moment has passed.”

No longer were we this sweet public petting zoo of fuzzy kangaroos for passing shoppers to approach and admire.  Now we were an obnoxious traveling circus and I was the unkempt keeper of the wild animals who were literally hanging off me and my cage-like cart. 

I pressed on, shunning these unfounded thoughts to the best of my ability as I zeroed in on the tasks at hand—pull Rowen’s thick legs out of the single hole he’s jammed them into in the cockpit of the cart, decide how much money is going on these gift cards, go with my gut and just buy that person this gift that I’ve picked up and put back five times because I’ll regret it if I don’t and will wind up making another nightmarish trip back here in a couple of days anyway, and finally, drag everyone all the way back through the labyrinth of aisles and customers to the other side of the store for one last bag of chocolate to make the 3-for-$9.00 deal work.

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”  I exhaled Philippians 4:13 as I approached the busy checkout section to wrap up this most taxing portion of our outing.  I wanted to embody a cross between Jacob Braude’s famous description of a duck who keeps its cool on the surface while churning the waters beneath and the proverb about being like a tea bag whose strength is unseen until it’s placed in hot water.

This was the perfect opportunity to put myself through the tea bag test, because temperature-wise, I was burning up.   I get hot easily enough under normal circumstances—you could say I’m an “extra” warm-blooded person—so you can imagine how I felt after wandering around in a sweatshirt with a big-for-three-months baby strapped to the front of me for over an hour.  And with the way he was starting to grunt and stir, it felt more like I was wearing a ticking time bomb.  He was getting hungry.  The kids were getting hungry…  

Combine a time crunch, cranky kids, and claustrophobia in a crowded store and you get one hot mama whose blood has been boiling long before she’s even been given a reason to rage.

I sputtered at static-y hair sticking to my lips and took a few swigs from my water bottle to stave off the monster headache I could feel coming on.  Just when I was starting to get really desperate—wishing a customer ahead of us would recognize my plight and let me slip ahead—a Target worker’s face appeared in the sea of backs and butts before me.  He announced that a register had opened directly in front of mine.

I hesitated a couple of seconds to see if anyone else was going to go for it, bouncing up and down on the balls of my feet to hold off Holden’s howling.  I was a game-faced kangaroo mom with boxing gloves on. 

When no one moved, my fate was sealed for the next several seconds—that register was mine.  The only thing standing between us was a person—a girl wearing black capri leggings with wool socks and those thick-framed, nerdy-chic glasses with the lenses covering half her face.  With how narrow Target’s checkout lanes are and how big they make their carts, there was no way I was getting around the girl without asking her to please skootch.

There was no time to be shy about it.  “Excuse me,” I called out loudly.  When she didn’t turn around, I went around my massive cart and tapped her shoulder.  “Excuse me.” 

She whirled around, startled.

“Hi.  Is it OK if we just squeeze past you to get to that register?” I asked, scurrying back and gripping the cart’s throttle…er…handle.

Being polite in a hurry has never been my forte.  I feel like I always come across as really rude or psychotic. 

“Oh, um, uh, sure,” she responded, fumbling with her cart to make room.

“I know.  These lanes are so narrow,” I said as I pushed the cart forward.  “But I think we can make it through.  Thankyousomuch!”  And just as the front of my cart started to pass Nerdy Chic’s, I realized I still had a blonde-haired barnacle in a green winter cap clamped onto the side.  She was scrunched in the space between our carts. 

“Oh, oh!” Nerdy Chic softly exclaimed, hovering her hands protectively over Alice.

I knew Alice would be fine, but I figured I’d better check on her based on the concern contorting Nerdy Chic’s face. 

“Are you OK, honey?” I asked.  “Can you stand up nice and straight?  We’re just gonna squeeze through here real quick.”

I turned to Nerdy Chic and hastily assured her, “It’s OK.  She’s OK.” 

Nerdy Chic didn’t look convinced. She haltingly cradled Alice’s head and let out another sympathetic, “Ohh!” as I forced the cart through.

The thought hit me—“She thinks I’m some selfish mom who cares more about winning the race to the check-out than about the well-being of her own daughter.”

I was “that mom” again.

I decided to take a light-hearted approach to defending myself against my suspicions and pretended to ram the cart in the direction of the open register.  “I’m like, ‘Ahh!  I gotta get over there!  Ha, ha ha!’” I cackled, hoping that by mocking myself, she’d let me off the hook and stop giving me that look.  It seemed a girl in big glasses would have a good sense of humor.

…You’d think, right?

No such luck. 

“I just didn’t want her to hurt her little head,” she explained in a tiny, tender voice, touching my daughter’s head for the final time.

And that’s when I’d had it.  My daughter didn’t need an advocate fussing over her.  Not when she was in my care.

“I didn’t either,” I scowled, barely looking at Miss Mousy Millennial as I stepped out of her line and barreled towards the open register like a bull seeing red.

After spending my entire trip guarding myself against a constant barrage of jagged-edged judgments, my claws had finally come out.  The only problem was that all of the nastiness had taken place inside my head. 

…Except for the thing I’d just done. 

As it turned out, I was the only mean person I’d met all day.  Yep—I’d done a bang-up job of spreading good old-fashioned Christmas sneer.  No wonder my name hadn’t been on Hobby Lobby Santa’s nice list.

I swallowed hard—literally representing the term “hot and bothered—as I rumbled along.  I yearned to go back and apologize to the girl—to explain that my stress level had been skyrocketing before I’d even gotten to her—and that it still was—but that I shouldn’t have taken it out on her. 

“I should actually be thanking her for caring about my daughter,” I realized with a sudden sting of shame. 

But I was running out of time.  The kids were all squirming, especially Holden, who was due to detonate at any moment.  Plus, Nerdy Chic had already started placing her items on the counter.  Going back to talk to her would’ve meant clogging up the area all over again.  I felt like I needed to unclog myself first—to drain myself of all of the defensiveness and paranoia and anxiety still storming in my system—before attempting any kind of apology.  Otherwise, chances were I’d dig myself an even deeper hole than the one I was already in, making the meantime into an even “meaner” time, if you know what I mean, and instead of having one thing to apologize for, I’d have ten.   I knew because I’d sabotaged saying sorry many times in the past.  I didn’t want that to happen now—especially not with a complete stranger.

I felt conflicted and convicted—still angry, but also ashamed.  I pushed all of my sticky feelings aside so we could get out of there as quickly as possible.   I skidded to a halt at the open register and looked up to find a familiar cashier—an upbeat, shaggy-haired woman who adorably mispronounced her “Rs.”

“Hello!” I smiled maniacally, still revved up from the adrenaline of rage and regret.

 “Do you have a Target RedCard?” she asked.

“Nope!” I responded from the other side of the cart.  “Sorry I’m throwing stuff!”  I had packed my merchandise all the way around Holden’s sprawling car seat.  My ability to bend over the cart was hindered by having Holden strapped to me, and I didn’t want to have to keep walking around it to unload it, all the while dodging Alice, who was now roaming free.  So I simply began throwing everything onto the conveyor belt.  Duck and chuck.  That was my strategy, even though I knew it was obnoxious. 

If Nerdy Chic was watching, I figured maybe it would make her feel better to see that she wasn’t the only recipient of my recklessness.  I imagined her cashier watching me with widened eyes as she commented on my outrageous behavior.  “Can you believe how rude some people are?  I heard what she said to you back there.  And that poor little girl!” 

“She’s probably just having a hard day.” 

Imaginary Nerdy Chic was so gracious and kind. 

I found two more hidden bags of Hershey’s Kisses and hurled them like grenades.  I sneaked a peek at Real Life Nerdy Chic—I couldn’t help it.  She was staring at her feet, looking sad and self-reflective. 

Crap.  I’d shattered a fragile soul.

“You should really think about signing up for a RedCard,” my cashier continued.  “You get 5% off every purchase and there’s even a debit card option.” 

We’d gone back and forth about the RedCard on past shopping trips to the point where it had become something of a joke between us.  She’d ask me, “Has your husband changed your mind about letting you sign up yet?”  And I’d smile and shake my head.  She was kind of my buddy.  But that was back when I used to go to Target more often.  It seemed she’d forgotten me in my absence.

I thought that, perhaps if I reminded her, she’d recall our little ritual.  I lifted the car seat to check for any hidden merchandise and grinned through gritted teeth, “We’ve talked about this many times before.” As I said it, though, I realized how snippy it sounded. 

“Oh, OK.  Sorry about that,” she stammered quietly, seemingly caught off guard by my directness.  She kept her head down as she scanned.

Man.  I was on fire.  And not in a good way.  I felt like a first-class dragon lady.  Definitely not a cute, composed, tea bag.  A dirt bag was more like it.

“Oh, no, no. I wouldn’t expect you to remember!” I breezily responded as I slid my card.  I plastered on a vacant smile and detached myself from the fact that I was inches away from having a major public meltdown.

Once we exited Target’s checkout lanes and wandered into the wide-open walking area of the mall, I fought the urge to stay in that distant, detached, “checked-out” place.  I wanted to ruminate on everything that had just transpired until I arrived at some kind of resolution, but I also knew I needed to be present with my kids.  I wanted to throw my flailing thoughts in a box and shove them aside until I had some alone time to sort them out.  I figured the best way to do that was to pray—to give it to God my Father and trust Him to counsel to me through it whenever He saw fit. 

I allowed myself another minute inside my head as we entered the food court.  I prayed for Nerdy Chic—that my behavior wouldn’t harm her or ruin the rest of her day.  I prayed that she wouldn’t despise her good intentions.  I prayed that she’d forgive me, and herself, if she was feeling badly for stepping on my toes.  I prayed that God would turn the entire situation around for good and His glory and that He’d use my words and actions to bring life and not death.  And finally, I prayed for another chance to apologize.  I knew I hadn’t gotten a close enough look at her face to be able to recognize her in the future, so I prayed that if we were to ever cross paths again, she’d remember me and approach me so I could say “sorry” and “thank you,” too.

I ordered chicken nuggets and fries to go with the baby carrots and clementines I’d brought for Alice and Rowen and a Jr. Whopper and a Coke for myself.  The cashier handed me cardboard crowns for all three kids, even though he knew Holden was too young to wear one.  We found a table to sit at on the edge of the dining area and I adjusted the crowns to fit Alice’s and Rowen’s heads.

As I smashed the circular crown down over Alice’s golden hair, she grinned up at me and insisted that I wear Holden’s crown.  I knew it was just a silly, throw-away thing from a junk food joint, but I didn’t feel worthy of it.  I put it on anyway, for the kids’ sake, and stared off into space, nibbling on my burger as the brooding resumed.

When I realized there was a five-second delay for every response I was giving to the kids while they chattered at me, swinging their legs and licking ketchup off their fingers, I turned to Alice and said, “I’m sorry I haven’t been answering you, sweetie.  I have something on my mind.”

She popped another salt-sprinkled fry in her mouth and asked, “What’s on your mind?”

It was such a grown-up response that I had to remind myself I was speaking with a four-year-old so I wouldn’t collapse into a fit of incoherent crying as I answered her. 

“I feel bad because I was rude to that lady in the checkout line back at Target.  I wasn’t very nice to her, and I wish I could tell her I was sorry.”

I’d had to gulp between words and some tears seeped out, but I’d held it together, for the most part.  Confessing my wrongdoing out loud was a relief, especially when I’d been worrying that Alice had picked up on my pride and poor example. 

I praised the kids for doing a good job eating their food and looked around at the busy food court, hoping my face wasn’t beet-red as I sipped my soda.  Just as I was wondering whether it was obvious that I was the kind of person who lashed out at strangers, a white-haired lady approached our table and placed her delicate hands on the back of one of the empty chairs.  She looked around, slowly taking us all in with her lips pressed together.

My mind started racing again.  Was she an angel?  Did she have some sort of message for me?

She commented on the kids and the fact that there were three.  She asked them their ages and names and I translated for her.  She actually wasn’t saying much, so I offered up the fact that we’d been looking at the toys in Target and were headed to the play area next. 

“You need to relax first,” she nodded matter-of-factly. 

I gawked up at her.   So it was true.  God had sent me a Christmas angel.  Or, at the very least, He had sent an unwitting messenger. 

I cringed, caught in the act, and confessed, “I know…I’m a little amped up.” 

I waited for her offer me more words of wisdom in her soft, straight-forward tone, but she just stood there, so I smiled and told the kids to tell her “Bye-bye!” and “Merry Christmas!” to end the awkward moment.

After she walked away and I started gathering all of our garbage onto my tray, I realized that, rather than advising me to settle down, the woman had simply been commenting on the fact that we were taking a break in the food court before going to the play area.  Rather than saying, “Get a grip, girl,” she was more-so saying, “Oh, I see.  You’re taking a break first.  That’s a good plan.”

I smirked at my mistake.  It did make me feel better, though, to know that we had once again become a mild, amiable petting zoo that little old ladies and the like felt welcome to stop and see.  And even if she hadn’t been advising me to take it easy, I knew that’s what I needed to do, and that that’s what God had been telling me all along. 

Sometimes, I get so worried about what other people are thinking that I forget to take my anxious thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ.  I let them capture me instead.  As Proverbs 29:25 states, my “fear of man” becomes a snare, and rather than reaching out to the outside world, I become trapped inside my head. 

But praise God, who offers me a way out in every circumstance where I find myself encased.  When I’m stressed and hard-pressed, wedged-in and wild with worry, He cradles my crazy head and leads me through into a spacious place.  And a gracious place, where forgiveness is free and He gives me space to get a handle on how much I can handle in this intensely sweet, sensitive, insane season of being a mom of three little ones.  He gives me strength when I feel fragile, and I know I can expect the same in each new season to come.

Thank you, God, for this indescribable gift. 

Psalm 118:5— “When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; He brought me into a spacious place.”

Isaiah 40:11—“He tends His flock like a shepherd:  He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.”

Matthew 11:28-30—“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

2 Corinthians 12:9-11—“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.   That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

This Too Shall Pass

It’s not like this is going to last forever…

The thought stands silently-yet-firmly at the back of my mind, encouraging me to keep pressing on in spite of some of the more trying moments that accompany this season of life. 

I remember it when I’m meandering through a crowded Walmart store at 4:30 pm with an infant, a toddler, and a preschooler in tow, trying to keep the spinning preschooler out of the way of other shoppers and the toddler from twisting around and waking the sleeping infant as I attempt to stuff a week’s worth of groceries around the infant’s bulky carseat.  I remember it when the preschooler suddenly announces she has to pee, not only because it’s going to be a chore to trek all the way across the expansive store and drag all three kids into the potty room with me, but because my daughter is completely terrified of the automatically-flushing toilets.   I remember it as the four of us enter the last stall in our winter coats, my toddler’s mittens-on-a-string dangling down and kissing the dirty floor as I pull the preschooler’s pants down and she starts screaming bloody murder at the cacophony of flushing toilets and blasting hand dryers surrounding us.  I remember it as I gently-yet-forcibly set her down on the seat, telling her she’ll feel so much better once she goes and that I’ll hold her hands the entire time as I pray the other customers don’t start to speculate that some form of abuse is going on inside our stall.

I remember it when I’m huddled in the corner of our living room couch, attempting to nurse a distracted baby as the two-year-old and four-year-old shriek and wrestle and bounce around next to me, bumping into me as I shield the baby’s head and shove them away.
I remember it when it’s the night before Halloween and I’m learning I’ll be taking the kids trick-or-treating solo for the second year in a row because my husband will be working out-of-town overnight.

I remember it when I’m racing around the house to the sound of a screaming infant, tripping over kids as I change their diapers, fix their hair, and stuff them into puffy coats and gloves that make it near-impossible to get their little fingers into the right places, all in a mad dash to get the four-year-old off to preschool on time.

I remember it when I’m yanking the two-year-old off of the newborn for the umpteenth time in a row for fear that he’ll either crush or suffocate the baby with his lumbering love.

I remember it when I’m attempting to make a double batch of cookies to share with the
neighbors while the baby snores in his carrier, drooling on my chest, and the other two twerps suddenly pop up in front of me, blinking brightly, asking if they can please “help.”  I remember it when my focus gets fudged by their chatter as they’re taking turns dumping in cupfuls of flour and I have to take the four-year-old’s word as to how much they’ve already put in.  I remember it when the cookies come out of the oven smelling delicious but looking flat as pancakes and it takes me two hours of distracted, start-and-stop, trial-and-error to fix them because I’m stubborn and cheap and the thought of tossing them makes me want to “toss my cookies” in a whole different way.

I remember it when I go on a harried Christmas shopping spree for toys only to find out the next day that all toys from that store are 25% off.  Alanis would call the scenario ironic, but it’s actually just annoying.  I remember it when I drag myself across town to return the gifts and rebuy them for that one-day sale, and I remember it again when, thanks to all of the weird videos of grown men and women unpackaging and playing with the latest toys on YouTube, my daughter proceeds to change the top item on her Christmas wish list on a daily basis. 

…Oh, I remember it.

I remember it when I’ve finally finished cleaning our grimy kitchen only to find that the two-year-old has completely torn apart the back two bedrooms in the process.

I remember it when I consider my now-regular wardrobe of sweatpants, baggy T-shirts, and hoodies, when I suddenly notice how long my fingernails have gotten because I don’t take the time to trim them, and when I try to run my fingers through my hair but can’t because of the dreadlock-like snarls that have formed near the base of my neck from lack of brushing, because, again, who has time for that?

I remember it when it’s the end of a long day of caring for and playing with my three high-maintenance monkeys, and after the toddler has gone to bed, all I want to do is collapse on the couch, but the preschooler innocently approaches me and asks what we can do for some “special time” together.  Then, after she’s long been asleep and so has my husband, I remember it when the baby won’t settle down after his final feeding.  In tired desperation, I lie him down on the couch near my chest, facing me, and I listen to him squeak and sigh and sing sweetly into my heart, and as we’re both drifting off into dreamland, I remember to savor moments like these, because it’s not like this is going to last forever.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Spring Break

I have tufts of purple frizz sticking out from the bottom of my messy bun—evidence of the hair-dying escapade I embarked on with my daring older sister, Danni, when I visited home last month.  I actually liked the purple surprise peeking out from the underside of my ponytail, because it made me feel like the My Little Pony toys I played with as a kid.  Since I like to shower at night and I am too impatient to blow dry my hair, however, I wound up with violet stains marring my pillowcase and marking the backs of many a T-shirt collar.  (Lucky for me, I only wear my husband, Ryan's shirts to bed.  Haha.)

In the end, I decided I wasn't up for the upkeep involved in channeling my inner punk, so I tried to dye the hair over with a warm brown to make it match the rest of my head, but apparently, electric purple is more stubborn than I’d anticipated.

Maybe purple should be the color associated with stubbornness, just like yellow goes with cowardice, green with greed, red with anger, blue with sadness, and so forth and so on.

If that’s the case, this ear infection I’ve had for three weeks is totally purple.  After taking four different types of antibiotics, I’ve started to get the hearing back in my left ear, though the infection has been simultaneously muffling and amplifying my breathing, making it sound like Darth Vader has set up camp inside my head.

I suppose that would be fitting, because I’ve felt a little Darth Vadery lately—all moody and mad, like I’ve got a bone to pick with the tone life has taken as of late.

Don’t get me wrong—all in all, things are going pretty smoothly and I’m grateful for that.

There are just a few key things that aren’t operating in the most turnkey fashion, I guess you could say, and it has me feeling frustrated.

My three-year-old daughter, Alice, was watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood on PBS this week, and on the episode she was watching, I overheard Daniel’s mother describe being frustrated as feeling like you can’t do what you want to do.

That totally describes me right now.  Daniel Tiger-son, wisdom flows fiercely in your family's tiger blood.

My camera lens is busted and my beloved laptop, a beautiful, black Toshiba my husband surprised me with several years ago to show his support for my foray into the world of creative freelance writing, is also broken.

And this all has me feeling a little broken and busted up myself.

Maybe the spring’s to blame.  I actually love springtime, but one thing about it is that it makes winter melt, and hiding beneath that pure, snow-white blanket of concealment that once covered the ground is, quite frankly, a load of crap.  Yes, crap—thawing dog droppings to be exact, along with garbage gone undetected for months, pot holes…

That’s how I feel.  I feel like I’ve hit a giant pot hole and someone (or should I say “Someone?”) has pressed the pause button on every project I had planned to complete with the aid of my computer and camera.

My plan to hurry up and finish that online photography class?  Cue the whining trombone.  (Wah, Wah, wahhh...)

My personal project of compiling and printing off all of our family photos from the past year?  Sidelined.

The personalized baby board book I’d wanted to organize and order before my son, Rowen’s, first birthday?  Postponed.

All of the notes I'd compiled for the blog posts I intended to write as soon as the timing was right?  Temporarily lost, and I so hope and pray their loss is only temporary.

I felt similarly stuck last spring after giving birth to Rowen, except it involved the breaking down of my physical appearance.  Though I'd taken the time to set up our home and get all of our baby gear ready before he was born, I'd neglected to assemble some supplies of my own—ones that would keep me from feeling like a total frump following the delivery.

All at once, I was out of contact lenses and eye make-up—both of which were expensive and a pain to obtain.  My hair was a mass of split ends, overdue for another dose of dye.  Most of my clothes were either ill-fitting or worn-out.  And, as could only be expected for any post-expectant mama, I felt completely out of shape.

It truly is frustrating to feel like you've been prevented from carrying on with life as usual.  In my present situation, however, I'm starting to wonder if maybe...just maybe, God has allowed two of my most precious possessions to break in order to take the pressure off of pastimes He'd originally intended for my pleasure—to remove the stress from things He'd meant to bless me with.  It's like He has me on a forced vacation—a spring break, if you will.

Speaking of breaks, a funny thing has happened since I started writing this—my phone has suddenly gone on the fritz—chiming incessantly and saying it's charged when it's not.  And the touch screen has gotten really touchy—responding to my poking and swiping in some cases and going numb to my forefinger and thumb in others. 

So basically, it's broken. 

You know what they say—when it rains, it pours, and we've just entered into the month of April showers.  But it’s OK, because I’m trusting the One who gently gives and takes away, who works all things together for my good even when it doesn’t feel so good, and who teaches me to dance in the rain.  Through letting a few little things in my world go to pieces, I believe He's giving me peace.

As I said earlier, springtime may be messy, turning up debris and dead leaves and doggy doo-doo, but it’s also a season of beauty and of new beginnings, of refreshed perspectives and of positivity. 

A little over a week ago, Alice and I dyed Easter eggs, and while I taught Alice about colors, God taught me about having a better attitude. Together, we dipped the eggs in dyes of yellow, blue, red, and green—colors that spoke of cheerfulness instead of  cowardice, serenity instead of sadness, romance instead of rage, and growth instead of greed. 

And, ironically enough, the prettiest, most vibrant egg of all turned out to be purple—stubborn old purple.  Stubbornness isn't always such a bad thing, though. 

For example, I will choose to stubbornly move forward through this season of disappointment and disrepair not with a limp but with a spring in my step that comes from believing in the God who makes all things new and beautiful in their time, including cranky little me. 

I don't know what you think, but I'm pretty sure God's not gonna let that spring break.

"I will send showers, showers of blessings, which will come just when they are needed" (Ezekiel 34:26b, NLT).

Sunday, February 7, 2016

On My Hands

Rowen had a blow-out diaper this morning.  When I went to change it, I announced to Ryan (my husband), “I’ve got poop on my hands,” not actually meaning that I had poop on my hands, but that I simply had a messy diaper to deal with.  But then I looked down at my fingers, and sure enough, I actually did have poop...on my hands.  Oh, the joys of mommyhood.  ;)

Friday, February 5, 2016

Naughty Pants

Most people have heard about crabby pants, and they’ve heard about big girl pants.  Many have even heard about traveling pants, as in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but did you now there is such a thing as naughty pants?  Yep.  Mmhmm.  They are a thing. 

I know because my daughter, Alice, has a pair.  I bought them off of the clearance rack at Old Navy last spring.  I didn’t even like them all that much at the time because they were skinny jeans overalls (just plain old awkward) and they had thin shoulder straps that formed a weird “Y” shape in middle of her the back instead of the traditional set of parallel straps.

In spite of my better judgment, I purchased them.  I guess I thought that, like the homely-at-first-glance Little Mermaid jumper someone gave her for her baby shower, they might transform into something completely adorable the moment I slipped them onto her.  Plus, they had a delicate white flower print all over them.  Who can resist a pretty flower print?  And especially at the low, low price of five measly smackeroos?

Well, I’d sure love to “smackeroo” the person that sold them to me.  Not really, but I now know why they were on the clearance rack, reduced in price for quick sale—it’s because Old Navy wanted to get rid of them.  They knew what those pants were capable of and they wanted them off their dirty, no-good, hustlin’ hands.  I guess I can’t blame them.  (On a positive note, I did find a very cute, very harmless-looking thermal shirt for Alice at Old Navy yesterday that only cost a dollar.)

I’m starting to suspect that the “Y” in the back was designed to stand for “naughty,” as in “naughtY.”  OK, so that’s probably a stretch, but seriously, as soon as Alice puts those pants on, it’s like this unruly aura overtakes her and she’s completely defenseless against the pants’ corrupting powers.

It starts with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, and then it spreads to her mouth, forming “The Grin.”  Maybe you’ve seen other kids do it.  With her, it looks like this:  she juts her chin out, squints her eyes, crinkles her nose, and grits her tiny, white corn kernel teeth together.  The fact that she has fairly wide spaces between her pearly whites makes her look like a shark, giving “The Grin” an even freakier effect.

Here’s an example:  she was sitting on the potty a couple of days ago, with the overalls pushed down to her ankles.  After she’d done her business and I’d wiped her, she suddenly pulled up her underwear and sprinted out of the bathroom with a wild shriek, the buckles clanging against the linoleum like shackles and chains. 

“Alice!”  I whisper-yelled as I pushed myself up off the ground.  I took off after her into the living room, trying to decide which behavior to address first.  “Rowen’s sleeping!  Be quiet and get over here!”  (Rowen’s bedroom, the bathroom, and the living room are all very close in proximity.)

I got a hold of her and started pulling the overalls back up over her pale little legs, but then she purposely began buckling her knees, slumping down onto the ground like a wet noodle, and laughing wickedly all the while.  “Alice!”  I hissed, still whispering.  “Knock it off!”  I wish I could say that we succeeded in getting the overalls fastened without discipline being administered, but we did not.

After I dumped my wild little pill off in her room for a much-needed nap (much-needed for both of us), I heard her chirp, “No!  I not goin-a-bee good!”  Her happily-defiant declaration was followed by a sinister horror movie giggle.  I shook my head and staggered over to the living room, where I plopped down onto the couch and waited for her to fall asleep, which she eventually did.  Thankfully, after giving me a good kick in the pants, the overalls took it pretty easy on me for the rest of the day. 

Now, if you can believe this, I had her wear them again today, but it was only because I knew I’d be writing this post and I wanted some pictures of the infamous Naughty Pants in action. 

The ironic thing was that Alice was actually behaving quite sweetly until I directed her to start jumping on the cushions and climbing over the arms of the couch to stage misbehavior for a picture.  She’s normally not allowed to do those things, so you’d think she’d jump (literally!) at the chance to engage in the forbidden with my permission, but nope!  She gave me a few half-hearted bunny hops and then refused to climb up the side.  She was misbehaving by not misbehaving, if you can believe that. 

“Alice!  Please!” I begged, pulling the camera away from my face and turning up the enthusiasm.  “Jump right over here!  C’mon!  It’ll be fun!” 

It was then that the power of The Pants officially kicked in.  “No!” she giggled, dashing into the kitchen, the ugly denim “Y” bobbing in full view.

“Alice!” I scolded.  “Get back here!” I couldn’t believe I was getting after her for not jumping on the couch.

The charade continued for a few more frustrating minutes until I finally realized how ridiculous (and undoubtedly confusing for her) the whole thing actually was.

A little bit later on, Alice, Rowen, and I were sitting together in the living room.  Because her birthday’s in a few days, I asked her, “What do you think you’ll get for your birthday, honey?”

Kee-oh!” she replied, flashing me The Grin. 

“Kill?” I repeated, trying not to sound too shocked. 

“Yeah!” she answered, bounding off the couch.  “Kee-oh!” 

I chose to ignore this random act of rebellion and changed the subject.  After all, only The Pants could’ve inspired such an off-the-wall and inappropriate response as that. 

…So why don’t I just get rid of those wicked pants, you may ask, by giving them away? (C’mon, that would be cruel!) And why don’t I just toss them?  The answer is simple:  Because I paid five dollars for them.  I realize I said earlier that they were cheap, but on the same token, five dollars is five dollars.

Maybe I sound a little crazy, but no biggie.  I blame my pants.  (They’re the Devoid of Reason sort.)  ;)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Properly Exposed

I officially found out today that I indeed do look as tired as I feel.  And not only tired, but old. I remember a comment my mom once made about how presidents tend to age a lot from the beginning of their terms to the end because of all of the stress they endure while in office.  Well, I’m not exactly President of the United States, but next Monday, I will have been Mom of the Swensen Household for three years (yeah, yeah, I know I’m a dork), and I think the same rule applies to my position. 

I’d begun to suspect that perhaps I was starting to look older when I observed the broadening crow’s feet curving out from the corners of my eyes like spare smiles.  But I brushed off any negativity that accompanied the observation, reminding myself that I’d always hoped to have crow’s feet when I got older, since they seemed to be signs of a joyful, friendly person.  One girl in my high school youth group even used to say that she pictured Jesus with crow’s feet.  That and red, red lips.  She would grin and hiss when she said "lipsss", like she was really relishing the image.  The red lips part secretly scared me, but I always loved the idea of Him having crow’s feet.  People with crow’s feet are just so approachable.

I noticed the bags, too.  You know, the puffy, dark under-eye circles that serve as indicators of actual, physical baggage in one’s life.  Not to say that my children are “baggage,” but they are most certainly a responsibility.  My almost-three-year-old, Alice, sure gives me a run for my money.  She runs.  Everywhere.  And she talks.  Non-stop.  And she’s learning to use the potty (‘nuff said).  And my increasingly-active nine-month-old, Rowen, is shaping up to be a real mover and a shaker, too, what with all of his rockin’ and rollin’ and what not around the house.  (Literally.  He has yet to crawl, but he rocks on his hands and knees like a madman and he rolls across the carpet like his onesie’s caught fire.)

I visited one of my good friends, who is also a mom to two young children, this past fall with Alice and Rowen.  One day, while sitting on her living room floor with our tiny tots, we were talking about make-up, and how, though we each struggled with getting it on our faces before lunchtime each day, wearing it was important—even when we planned to stay in—because it helped us feel more engaged with the day. 

“There is one part of my face that I purposely leave make-up free,” my friend admitted, her hazel eyes twinkling with self-satisfied rebellion.  “I don’t cover up the dark circles under my eyes because they’re sort of like a badge of honor…for being a mom to young children.”   
I’d known what she was talking about.  We’d snapped a lot of pictures of each other during my stay.  One of my favorites was an image I’d captured of her standing on her porch, smiling down at me as she cradled her brand-new baby in a pink swaddle blanket.  The morning sun shone radiantly upon her head, creating a sort-of halo effect atop her famously-frizzy brown hair.  I told her I loved the image because I felt like it captured a certain kind of glory that accompanies the exhaustion of a woman postpartum. 

I’d totally meant it at the time that I said it, but today I say…

Ga-lory Scha-mory.

...Not about her.  About me.

I know I’m not a mom to a newborn anymore, but I’ve still got the under-eye baggage, which is currently making me feel like one giant bag—an old one!  I have yet to research ways to conceal my two little “badges of honor” (ha!), but as soon as I find the time, I will!  Unlike my pooped-out-and-proud-of-it friend, it was never on purpose that I left my under-eye bags unchecked—I guess I’d just been in serious denial of how pronounced they actually were!  Maybe that’s why she’d brought up the whole leaving-the-dark-circles-uncovered thing in the first place—because she’d assumed I was doing the same thing!

Nope.  I was just clueless.

I thank my DSLR camera for helping me finally see the light a couple of days ago.  Well, I sort of thank it.  I’m also sort of mad at it.  While I’m loving the clarity and crispness it brings to the photos I take of my rosy-cheeked, porcelain-skinned children, I’m finding the camera does a little bit too good of a job of capturing the complexities of my rapidly wrinkling complexion. 

I’d been taking some “selfies” (I hate that word, by the way) of myself and Rowen below our long line of living room bow windows while Alice napped.  All of the pictures were going to be close-ups since my camera had no “zoom in/out” function and propping the camera on a chair and setting the timer wasn’t giving me the same quality of exposure that I got from pushing the button myself.

Yeah, the camera did a great job of providing exposure.  Too good of a job, because when I stopped all of my snapping to check out the images, I felt completely exposed.  Pretty much naked.  The pictures were so clear, I could even make out the outline of my contact lenses against the whites of my eyes.  Cheek wrinkles, forehead wrinkles, crow’s feet, under-eye circles…every blemish and scar and freckle was laid bare before my eyes as I gasped and pulled my baby’s grabby little paws away from the appalling screen.

I used to watch What Not to Wear like the show was going out of styleOne of the hosts, Stacie London once said that if you put on an outfit and look in the mirror and think that something looks a little funky, it’s probably true.   As much as you’d like it to be the case, the mirror isn’t just playing tricks on you and you aren’t imagining things.  I guess the same goes for dark circles and wrinkles.

I have three sisters.  Two are older and one is younger.  Throughout the years, I’ve been asked repeatedly whether I’m the eldest.  I used to wonder if it was perhaps because I came across as a little more mature than the rest.  (Anyone who knows me very well is probably laughing right now.  My sisters are undoubtedly rolling their eyes.)  Well, roll no further, bag-free and beautiful eyes of my sneering sisters, because I’ve finally figured out the reason behind their erred assumption:  I look old.