Backwards Blessings.

My 92 year old grandmother, my Mother’s mom, moved in with my parents in Mid-April, five months before my dad passed away. I remember the week she moved in – it was an extraordinarily chaotic week for our entire family. Mammaw had had a bad day at her house, which was the impetus for getting her to move in. My sister-in-law’s stepdad passed away the same day. My Dad was in the middle of his first round of Clinical Trials at UAB, requiring him to stay in a hotel downtown three nights every three weeks. My Mom had her Master Gardener’s annual plant sale coming up, for which she was responsible for many preparations. I had a Picture Birmingham pop-up shop at West Elm that weekend. We all pitched in, trying to do what we could…keeping my brother and sister-in-law’s kids so my sister-in-law could be with her mom, helping with Mammaw so that mom could get ready for her plant sale and also accompany dad to the doctor.

Mammaw had moved in because she wasn’t doing well. She couldn’t see or hear very well, and she had an infection that was making her somewhat delirious. She needed a female caretaker at all times, so Mom, Mom’s sister, and I were trading up staying with her. I was super nervous the first time I went to sit with her for five hours. My gifting, unlike my mother, is not care-taking and is definitely not long periods of visiting without doing anything. I am much more like my father – an administrator, someone who needs to be busy when with other people, and a writer instead of a talker. I don’t know what to say in person (if you’ve ever tried to talk in person about something that is vulnerable to me, you are already well aware of this.) But God gave me the idea of reading aloud to Mammaw – I read aloud to my kids all the time, and I had lots of favorite books I could read to her. Plus, the thing that Mammaw missed most due to her declining vision was reading, so it was perfect. I read nearly an entire book to her in the first few weeks, before she broke it to me that she could barely hear me (despite my yelling the pages.) But it helped me get into the groove of sitting with her, and by then I had come to enjoy our time together and had learned to talk better.

But I didn’t realize what a striking blessing Mammaw had specifically been to me until the week before dad passed away. I had been sitting with Mammaw one to three times a week for five months by then. One day I was sitting and talking to Dad after they got back from his last doctor’s appointment. It all of a sudden hit me that I had never, in these last few months of his life, worried that I was not there enough, or that I was there too much. I’d never even wondered if I was bugging them or if I was too distant. I was at my parent’s exactly as often as they wanted and needed me there, and they were thankful that I had been there. Sitting with Mammaw had enabled so many positive things in my life:

– It enabled me to serve my parents in a practical way, rather than feeling useless or wondering how I could help them.

– It enabled me to be present with them on a weekly basis, visiting before and after their appointments.

– Many times just Mom was gone somewhere and Dad was at the house, and Dad would use those days to purposefully invest in my kids while I sat with Mammaw. It was those days that dad taught Noah how to drive the tractor, let both kids drive his truck, and included my kids on making the backsplash tiles for Mom’s kitchen that he was designing out of clay and pressed leaves from their property. Mammaw being there gave my kids more time with their Granddad.

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– Mammaw allowed me to never once worry about being there too much or too little or even thinking about those things – and I am prone to worrying, so that in itself is a miracle.

– Serving my parents in that way allowed me to demonstrate to my Dad that I am and will be here for my Mom. I think I have not always been demonstrably servant-hearted to my parents because they’ve always been so very self-sufficient that I didn’t know what could I offer them. Plus, for the last 12 years, I’ve had their grandkids – so most of our interactions have been grandkid-centered. I’d lost the ability to converse / serve / be there for my parents, and I hope that Dad seeing me be there in his last five months assured him that I’d be there for mom after he was gone.

Furthermore, my mom is a caretaker. And Mammaw being there after my Dad’s death is, I think, so very much a blessing to my Mom. She still has her mother, she has someone to care for, she has someone to confide in, and she’s not alone. Mammaw may have wondered at times why she’s still on this earth, why she’s 92 and one of the only ones left of her generation, but I think it’s for my Mom. And, in those last five months, it was also for me.

I was able to tell Mammaw all of this a few weeks after my Dad died, and thank her for what she’d done for me. She cried, I cried, and she said “Thank you, Rachel, for telling me all that. I loved your father so much – he was such a good son-in-law to me and took such good care of me. I’ve felt so bad that I couldn’t do anything for your parents during all of this, and it makes me feel so good that I was able to help after all.”

God’s blessings sometimes come in backwards, unexpected ways. Never underestimate your value to others.

190108 Ali's 12 Birthday IMG_0758 sMammaw, Mom, Ali and I at Ali’s 12th birthday. Mammaw is doing wonderfully well now.

It Gets Easier. No Really.

There’s a universal set of lies that mothers of adult children tell mothers of small children.

1. Enjoy every second – I sure did!
2. You’ll blink and they’ll be graduating high school!
3. Oh honey, keep your chin up – because it only gets harder.

I’ve spent the last nine and a half years of my life attempting to ignore and not explode over these completely not encouraging statements, and also debunking them for other young mothers who have that horrified, exhausted, overspent look in their eyes.

Like my dear friend Not-Crazy-Renee had Tuesday afternoon.

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First of all, no one enjoys every second of motherhood. There’s a lot of crap we have to deal with – more literal crap than figurative, but plenty of both. We should enjoy the beautiful moments, for sure – but the concept of “enjoying every second” only breeds guilt and shame and a sense of being less-than in comparison to these mothers who have wet-wiped away the many crappy memories of their younger days.

Second. I don’t care what they say. When you’re in the midst of mothering young children, it is NOT a blink. Maybe it feels like it afterward, but it does not, in ANY WAY, feel like it in the middle – no matter how delightful your particular children are. Ali is a great example – she’s really been an unusually easy and great kid since about 9 months old. She didn’t even have terrible twos, y’all. But even still, when Chris sent me this Timehop the other day, it felt like at least a century ago – certainly not a blink.

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But those first two statements have been plainly not true to me for nearly my entire parenting career. (I even remember how NON-BLINK the first six weeks of Ali’s life felt. I kept blinking. The seconds of her constant screaming kept crawling along. BLINK BLINK BLINK.)

The third lie, however, has been my newest revelation of how lie-ey of a lie it actually is. And that’s what we’re here to discuss today.

“It only gets harder.”

No, no it doesn’t.

I don’t know how many people I’ve had tell me this over the years – so many that I don’t remember any particular individuals – they all blur together into a continuous loop of it-only-gets-harder-honeys. And maybe teenagehood totally gets harder – it probably does. I’m not there yet. But I am here to attest – and to share the agreement of many of my friends who are in the same stage as myself – that it does NOT only get harder.

My kids are 9 1/2 and 5 1/2. And my life is infinitely easier and more delightful than when I had a newborn. In fact, I’m at a pretty dang easy stage of parenting. I don’t have to wipe any butts, carry any pumpkin seats, comfort any inconsolable babies, pack a diaper bag, wake up in the middle of the night to impart life-giving sustenance to anyone, or teach (over and over) the idea of what “no” means.

(Okay maybe the no thing is still being taught over and over. But the rest are solid.)

I remember when Ali was born. It was a horrifying shock to our systems – one of those OHMYGOSH I WILL NEVER HAVE MY LIFE BACK EVER AGAIN shocks. Newborns, especially first newborns, are all-encompassing. They take your sleep, your calories, your arms, your every waking moment, and your sanity. They cry inconsolably. They cannot tell you what’s wrong. And they give nothing in exchange – other than their tiny cuteness, which is NOT ENOUGH, I tell you.

(At least for the first one. It made up for a lot on the second one.)

I felt pretty panicky in those first few months, thinking I would never feel like “just me” again. But I quickly learned, and was able to remember and therefore make Noah’s infanthood easier, that you progressively get your freedoms and your sense of self back.

Renee did indeed come over Tuesday afternoon, and the chaos of her life reminded me how very much of my life I have back. I gave her a giant cup of iced coffee, sent my children to entertain two out of three of her children, and tried to encourage her that she is in Ground Zero of Parenthood – this is The Hardest It Gets (at least up to 9 1/2 years old, where my assumed expertise ends.) Those baby/toddler days are draining, and are definitely harder than the days I’m experiencing now. I even texted her (desperately attempting to be non-braggy) an example at 10am the next morning:

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Here are a list of things that I can do now, that I would have never dreamed of doing when I had an infant, or a 1, 2, or 3 year old.

– I can take a nap – with my kids at home – and they are perfectly able to entertain themselves.
– I can sleep in – because they can read clocks and know they’re not allowed to come into my room until 8 (and 8:30 on Saturdays.)
– Ali really likes making a little money on the side, she she voluntarily brings me breakfast in bed about once a week (an entrepreneurial delight that I reward with 50 cents.)
– I can say “I’m going out on the porch to read a book”, and they say “Okay!” – and I – get this – GO OUT ON THE PORCH AND READ A BOOK.
– My kids and I can go on adventures – hiking, exploring, having fun – without having to worry about naptimes or diapers or feedings or even constant whininess (sometimes.)

Here are a list of things that my kids do for themselves that seemed like a foreign and exotic fantasy when I had a newborn or a toddler:

– They get dressed. Brush their own teeth. Get themselves in the car and buckle their own seatbelts.
– They clean their rooms with minimal help.
– They know how much iPad time they’re allowed a day (1 hour during the summer) and how many TV shows they’re allowed to watch (2 shows each) and which TV shows they’re allowed to watch, and they access said allowed events without my help.
– They fix their own breakfasts and lunches most of the time.

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…………..and that’s as far as I got writing this post before I put it down for the day and got back to life.

…..Later that night, I discovered that in an effort to make money that morning, my daughter, while I was still in bed basking in my #ItGetsEasier lifestyle, had unloaded a dirty dishwasher. And I discovered it at 10:30pm that night. Which also meant that the bowl of #ItGetsEasier cereal she’d brought me that morning….yeah I don’t want to think about it.

…..And on that same night, my son, of whom I do not have to wipe his butt anymore because #ItGetsEasier, solidly clogged up the kid’s toilet with a massive dump – so much so that neither that night nor the next morning could my husband unclog said toilet.

So yes.

It does get easier.

You do get your self back.

But parenthood is a lifetime purchase.

And they’ll find a way to make you pay interest.

Disclaimer: Before you hate, I love my children. I love to spend time with them. I love being a Mommy. This post is only meant to encourage the fellow mothers in the trenches of what is a quadruple-overtime-required job – is it worth it? Yes. Is it seriously mind-blowingly hard sometimes? Yes. That is all.

Backwards Parenting: Because Nobody’s Perfect.

I don’t blog too much about Ali anymore – after all, she’s eight and a half and has earned the right to privacy in most matters. Not sharing her stories is my decision on her behalf, as she has certainly never expressed this to me, and quite enjoys reading back through my old blog posts about her. But even if they don’t understand it yet, there comes a time when it just seems right to not blog about everything in a kid’s life.

However, I asked her permission to share this story, and she readily agreed.


Ali is an extraordinarily good kid.

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She’s conscientious, diligent, helpful, and tries to please us any chance she gets.

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And I do mean ANY chance. To the point where, not long ago, I began to feel like I was going to have to have a talk with her about not trying to earn some extra measure of love and/or approval by outshining her little brother.

For example: Anytime Noah whines about something, she rather over-cheerily chirps, “Yes ma’am! No problem, Mom!”, and if he doesn’t want to do something I asked him to do, she’ll step in and say “I’ll be glad to do that for you!”

…Not to say I don’t rather enjoy her attitude, but I want it to be for the right reasons.

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But the opportunity to talk about her strived-for perfection presented itself a few days ago.

We were having an “at home day” so that I could get the house back in order after all of our construction. I’d told the kids at breakfast that I was going to work on stuff all day, and it was their job to play together and entertain themselves.

I’d never given those exact instructions before, but it was impressively successful – prepping the kids regarding their responsibility of amusing themselves cut out 90% of the whining and requesting of my boredom-busting services. I was pretty proud of myself.

…Until I heard things crashing down the stairs, followed by many giggles. So I called out for them to please quit throwing all the things – and for that matter anything – down the stairs.

Of course, eager-to-please Ali called back, “It wasn’t me! It was Noah!”

(She didn’t deny her part in the giggles, though.)

“Well, no one throw anything else down the stairs PLEASE.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Yes ma’am.”

And they went back to playing quietly.

…Until about half an hour later, when I heard crying coming from the base of the stairs.

It wasn’t frantic crying, so I walked through the house and to the stairs to find out what had befallen my four-year-old. Noah was sitting on the floor whimpering, and Ali had a shocked and horrified look on her face.

“What happened?”

“I .. I threw this down the stairs. While Noah was walking down the stairs. And it hit him and knocked him down.”

I was so confused by Ali’s admission of disobedience that I didn’t quite comprehend it. She did what? That’s not an Ali thing to do. Was she sure it wasn’t the other way around? Surely it was the other way around.

The item in question was a Study Buddy pillow. It definitely had the power to knock Noah down while standing anywhere, let alone the stairs.

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Once I fully absorbed what had happened, I said, “Do you know how much that could have hurt him? He could have fallen much worse and broken an arm. Or busted open his head. Didn’t I just tell you both not to throw things down the stairs?”

Ali instantaneously began crying and said, “I know! It was so very foolish. You can punish me now. Please punish me!”

Noah had quit crying by then and was looking at his sister like she was an alien. Did she just request punishment?

I was also feeling very out of sorts and confused about the entire incident, so I said “I’m going to call Daddy and talk to him about what your consequences should be. I’ll come see you in a minute.”

I walked to my office and called Chris. We were both perplexed, and discussed the situation thoroughly, including the fact that she was definitely punishing herself with her insane amount of “perfect child guilt”. Because of the latter, we decided that we did want to give her other consequences – out of mercy – so that she could feel like she received her punishment and not dwell in her misery of guilt. Finally, we agreed that she could be grounded off of TV for three days.

I found Ali upstairs in her room, where she was crying violently. As I walked in, she burst out between sobs, “I feel so stupid!!”

I’d never heard her use the word “stupid” before and I could tell that it was a gut-wrenching description of the state of her heart at that moment. Being a perfectionist myself that has struggled with desiring to appear without fault for my entire life, I felt awful for her and knew exactly how tumultuous she was feeling. A day doesn’t go by where my mind doesn’t conjure up some past mistake that makes me cringe and vocally groan at the memory – even if it happened 20 years ago.

I knew that the Study Buddy would haunt her every time she saw it for the rest of her childhood if I didn’t somehow help her train her brain better than my own. (Or throw away the Study Buddy.) So her coaching would be opposite of what her brother would need. Instead of reiterating what she had done wrong, I was going to have to convince her to let her wrongdoing go.

So I assured her that she wasn’t stupid, and that we all make mistakes.

“I put myself in time out. I don’t deserve to play today! I am so foolish. It’s like I lost my mind for a minute!”

I told her that she had to forgive herself, and began to explain to her what it meant to be a perfectionistic people pleaser. I explained that none of us can truly be perfect and that I’d already made many mistakes that week. I began telling her my laundry list of mess-ups, and she looked at me with wonder and a good deal of confusion.

“But I can’t forgive myself! It would be too prideful. I was too foolish for forgiveness.”

I tried again to explain, “Actually, it’s prideful to not forgive yourself. Not forgiving yourself is saying that you think you can be good enough if you try hard enough, and so if you mess up, you’ve ruined it all. That’s why we need Jesus – because none of us can be perfect – and all of us need forgiveness and a fresh start every day – and He washes our sins away and makes us perfect and new. You just need to do three things: ask your brother to forgive you, ask God to forgive you, and then you MUST forgive yourself.”

“I’ve already done the first two, but I just don’t know how to do the third.”

“I understand. I struggle with it, too. But you’ve got to let go of the idea that you can be perfect. NO ONE is perfect.”

She breathed a deep sigh and I could nearly see a little burden rolling off of her shoulders.

So then I told her, “Daddy and I did decide that you do need consequences – but only because I’d just told you both not to throw things down the stairs. Your consequences will be that you can’t watch TV for three days.”

Her shoulders got straighter and eyes brighter. She looked up eagerly at me, “Oh that’s fine. I DEFINITELY deserve that!”

I saw another bundle of burden roll off her back, and marveled at this bizarre yet beautiful exchange.

“None of us are good enough. We all make mistakes. We all need forgiveness. And we all need to forgive ourselves. Okay?”

“Okay. I think I understand.”

Later that day, she proudly brought me her diary to read.

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Parenting a people pleaser may seem easy and even be easy on most days, but sometimes it takes a bit of backwards parenting to get through to them. And I am so grateful that my tiny perfectionist messed up so that she could realize that perfection is a hopeless cause.

…And remind me of that very same thing.

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