To the Mom Whose Hands Are Full

If I had a nickel for every time I heard, “Man, you’ve got your hands full,” I could guiltlessly go to Target a lot more often. I hear it pretty much every time I go to the grocery store, every football game we attend, or just anytime I venture out into the world with all three in tow. You would think I had a go-to witty remark tucked into my back pocket, but instead I just laugh and say something like, “Yep. Sure do. They’re pretty sweet, though.” Lame.

Yes, my hands are full. I am usually holding at least one child and holding the hands of the other two (it’s just as awkward as it sounds). I usually have a backpack or a diaper bag or a baby doll or a half eaten granola bar, a paci, a blankie, perhaps a stuffed animal. On really great days, all of the above. There’s a good chance that no one has had their hair brushed, that one child is missing an article of clothing (usually pants), or that another is dressed like a superhero princess. There’s an excellent chance that one is crying, probably two, sometimes three, and even perhaps the whole lot of us, me included. We are a disheveled mess of a bunch. No wonder they think my hands are full.

It’s easy for me to only recognize the difficulty in having full hands, the inconveniences and challenges, the discomfort of it. It’s easy for me to see it as a negative: ugh, my hands are SO FULL. 

But the other day someone shouted to “GET TOGETHER! LET’S TAKE A PICTURE!” My kids were running around or had been scooped up by someone else and I froze. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. They were empty. I felt like holding up my bare palms to stare at them like, WHAT ARE THESE THINGS? WHAT ARE THEY CALLED? As the photographer counted “1, 2, …” I panicked. What do I do with these? Where do I put them? Do I do the chicken wing thing or stick them in my pockets (nope. definitely a bad choice.) or let them hang limply by my sides? WHY ARE ARMS SO DADGUM LONG?

I realized, I have found comfort in full hands. Children and the accessories of motherhood have become so much a part of my normal that empty hands feels more like emptiness.

And then it hit me: pretty soon, my hands will be empty. What am I going to do?

I am not a sentimental person. I’m not great at soaking things up, not because I hate my present stage but because I get so lost in my everyday. But man, as I was looking at that picture of myself later I couldn’t help but stare at my empty hands just … hanging there, kidless. And I got so emotional.

Our lives are defined by seasons. As sure as the mama bear comes out of hibernation, we mamas are going to reemerge from these caves we’ve been cooped up in for what feels like forever.

But it’s not forever. It’s a very short season.

We are so close to returning to civilization, our hands totally free. They will no longer be filled with a tiny hand as you cross the street or with that squishy little body in the rocking chair; we won’t have to use them to spoon-feed a mouth or turn the pages of a book; we won’t use them to haul around a bag full of 18,000 essentials or to clean up twice as many messes. Someday, we will be able to leave the house without tying everyone’s shoes, brushing everyone’s hair (optional*), and buckling everyone’s seatbelt. Just like all seasons do, this one will end.

 

Then what? What will we do with our hands?

Pray.

We will pray that we didn’t totally jack them up, that the foundation we laid was solid. We will pray that they acquire equal parts selflessness and boldness. We we will pray for their safety because this world is terrifying sometimes, and then cry out for God to take that fear away because it is not from him.

Raise them high.

We will praise him that he picked us for this job. We will thank him for helping us survive that crap shoot. We will reach high, hoping to feel his grace pour over us and cover all the many doubts we have about how well we did, and then let him remind us of all the things we did SO well.

Reach out and serve.

God uses our current seasons to prepare us for our next. If there is anything motherhood prepares you for, it’s laying down your wants to serve the needs of others. We have honed valuable skills, one being finding a way to love people that prove themselves very unloveable at times. That, my friends, is essential in the real world.

 

Yes, my hands are full. Your hands are probably full, too. But they will only be full for so long. So as we bend over to pick up another pair of dirty underwear off the floor, another toy that stabbed the bottom of our foot, another crying baby out of the crib, let us cherish that load they carry now.

 

 

On Making Our Toddlers “Kindergarten Ready”

  • ** After discussing this article with my husband, I would like to add that you can exchange “smart” for “athletic” throughout this article and it would remain frighteningly true … I could rewrite the whole thing, but no. **

 

My 3-year-old loves baby dolls. Very rarely do we leave the house without one hooked under one little arm, a diaper bag dangling from the other. She wants to be a “mommy” when she grows up so that she can “go to the grocery store all by [her]self” and “do the dishes.” Girl’s got ambition — which I fully intend to exploit in 5-13 years. She pretends to be a mommy all day long. That’s basically the only activity that keeps her interest longer than five minutes.

I remember being alarmed at her early disinterest in learning … or at least what we think of as learning. Charlee had always loved to read, but early on, Hattie would slam the cover shut any time I even tried to crack a book. And the few times I attempted to teach her sign language as a baby, she would scream at me and yank her hands away. It was if she was trying to tell me, I do not have time for silly things like this. There’s a whole world out there to explore.

While she can now engage long enough to complete a book or even a few (though she asks approximately 18,000 questions per page, some completely irrelevant), she’s still not interested in sitting down and working for long stretches.

Occasionally, against my better judgment, I get anxiety about the fact that she doesn’t know many letters or how to write her name or that she still gets that eleventeen-17 range jumbled when counting. I drive by the Montessori Preschools that I cant afford and think, “I should really work on preschool curriculum with Hattie so that she has a chance…”

But then I think back to my education degree and remind myself that Hattie just turned THREE, and this pressure that has been created to have my kids literate by the age of 4 and performing long-division by 5 and composing symphonies by 6 WAS NOT created by teachers or child development researchers but by the pressures of a flawed system and competitive parents.

I remember one of my professors discussing the new environment into which we are sending our students. This is no longer a world in which students who “know the most” will be the most successful. Information is now immediately accessible, so education is less about “knowing stuff” and more about creative thinking, application, cooperation, leadership skills, and all of that other intangible, “outside of the box” stuff.

Guess what!? These are things cultivated in free play, not rigorous preschool curriculum.

Then I think about my biblical duty as a momma: to make little, tiny Jesus impersonators. That changes things. Because Jesus is not remembered for his smarts but for his wisdom. He’s not remembered for his SAT score or for how many multisyllabic words he used in the Sermon on the Mount. He is remembered for his desperate pursuit of outcasts, his passionate cry for justice for the oppressed, and his counter-cultural inclusiveness — EVERYONE can be part of his club.

What if we taught our kids that while academics are important, because working hard at everything we do is important, school is not just a means to a good career but an incredibly convenient mission field? They have an awesome opportunity to desperately pursue outcasts, passionately cry out for justice for the oppressed, and be counter-culturally inclusive — make sure EVERYONE is a part of the club. They get to BE Jesus to the lost and lonely every single day. And if schools are anything like they were 4 years ago when I taught, there are PLENTY of lost and lonely. What if we told our kids not to compare their gifts and make sure theirs are BETTER but to see how they can use those gifts to better their classmates. What if it wasn’t about competing but about working for the Lord and not for man?

When we push academic success at such an early age (or at any age), not only do our children lose valuable time to play and learn through osmosis, but we can unintentionally put SMART on a pedestal, high above KIND, SELFLESS, or COMPASSIONATE.

While at a bible study today on motherhood, our incredibly wise mentor mom said, “When I walk into a parent-teacher conference, I push all the papers aside, and say, ‘I don’t want to know about grades. I know their grades. We can fix grades. I want to know what kind of person they are when they aren’t with me. I want to know if they are kind. I want to know if they play with the lonely kids at recess. I want to know if they sit with the lonely kids at lunch.”

In the long run, are we just dying for our kids to be rich and famous? To be the CEO of a company? Is financial success at the top of our priority list?

If not (or even if so), let’s just let our three-year-olds play. Let’s all just calm the heck down about Kindergarten readiness, because if you’re worried about your baby being ready, that’s a good sign that he will be ready. Instead, let’s make sure they know that sharing is JUST AS important as counting, cooperating is JUST AS important as phonics, that we care more about them being like Jesus than we do about them knowing a lot of stuff.

Let’s show by our actions that being kind is more important than being smart.

 

While I was agonizing over this article and trying to figure out how to say what I wanted to say, I flipped over to Facebook for a second so that I could stop using my brain for a hot second and THIS was the first thing that popped up:

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It was as if God was saying, YES. THIS is a message that you need to share. Thanks Jenn for posting — you were unknowingly encouraging me.

 

 

In the next few days I will be posting a Q&A with my mom, who is not just a kindergarten teacher, but the best kindergarten teacher there ever was (no offense to the rest). Hopefully, she can put all us parents-of-little-ones’ fears to rest about kindergarten readiness.

Parenting Prophetically

I wasn’t always the best student in college. I probably would have benefitted from taking a few years off after high school because I didn’t really understand the whole concept. Like, hey 18-year-old Jordan, this is training for the REST OF YOUR LIFE so please pay attention and put in some effort. I was admittedly more interested in writing ridiculous (though well-illustrated) poems about inappropriate things than taking notes, never mind the thousands of dollars my parents were shelling out.

You are judging me so hard right now. And I also feel like I need to ask for your forgiveness.

Anyway, I somehow remember one term from my Sociology class freshman year: self-fulfilling prophecy. This is the only thing I remember from that class; for some reason it stuck with me. The whole idea is that the things you believe about yourself, even if those things are initially untrue, become true, because there is such a strong connection between belief and behavior.

Let’s say I believe I’m an idiot. I have no proof of this, and am in fact very smart, but was once told by a sibling or parent, “You are so stupid,” and that statement became glued to the front of my brain. Now I don’t like school because I’m afraid the “truth” will come out — I’m an idiot. Learning becomes impossible because it’s linked to overwhelming stress, and I consequently begin falling behind academically. What was once a false statement, is now prophetic.

Our minds are insane. Words are so powerful. They form beliefs. And beliefs form behaviors.

 

My oldest child feels things with a far greater depth than I understand. The best word to describe her is sensitive. She experiences the world differently than me because she experiences it emotionally, rather than pragmatically. It’s both beautiful and terrifying, her greatest asset and her greatest struggle.

For me, on the other hand, sensitivity has been learned and developed over time. It doesn’t come naturally to me. So in the past, when something upset her deeply, I just. didn’t. get it. I would get frustrated and annoyed. All I could think was, THIS IS NOT A BIG DEAL. Why are you acting like this? And that attitude showed. She is able to read people incredibly well, so through my reactions to her, I was subtly, and consistently, sending her this message: You are TOO MUCH. Stop being SO dramatic. Be different!

And if we were in public? I would lose my patience so fast because STOP EMBARRASSING ME… which is a whole lot less about her and her issues and a whole lot more about me and my issues.

Then, my husband would get home, and I’d tell him the drawn-out story in great detail (not in front of her) and would throw in words like “crazy” and “out of control” for emphasis.

It didn’t take long (or actually wayyy too long) for me to realize this dangerous dynamic. I was speaking about her and to her in ways that were shaping her, that would surely negatively influence her self-image, and thus her future self.

Oh my goodness, y’all. WORDS. REACTIONS. TONES. The words we speak over our children are prophetic, for they will determine who they become.

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I am a prophet. We, we parents who dismissively mumble words out of weariness and exhaustion, we are prophets. We are piecing our children’s souls together, one irritated word at a time, creating a mosaic of phrases, remarks, and feelings. What do we want them to act like? Who do we want them to be?

In one of my education classes in college, (because I was always paying attention) my professor told us to “stay out of the Teachers’ Lounge.” The Teachers’ Lounge, she explained, was where teachers went to complain about their students. “The more you complain about your students, the less you are going to enjoy them. The more you tell stories about how awful they are, the more awful they will be because you are expecting them to be awful.”

In regards to raising children, we have to stay out of the metaphorical Teachers’ Lounge: our spouses, our families, our friends, and dare I say social media. Are we constantly complaining about our kids? Are we constantly ranting about how terrible they were today? In the name of “authenticity” and “being real”, are we sacrificing the dignity of our little ones on social media? Are we expecting them to be terrible? The way we speak about our children, even to our spouses, influences our behavior towards them, which in turn influences their behavior toward us. Seeking wise counsel is one thing but complaining and ranting is another. I cannot speak negatively about my children and NOT expect that to affect the way I treat them. The things we say mold the way we feel and act.

 

So the question is, how do we use the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies to our advantage? What behaviors can we cultivate in our children via diligent lip-service?

 

I want my children to believe they can do hard things…

so I will speak words of perseverance into them.

I want them to believe they are strong…

so I will speak words of strength into them.

I want them to believe they are adored…

so I will speak words of love into them.

I want them to believe they are wanted…

so I will speak words of gratefulness into them.

I want them to believe they (and their eccentricities) were created purposefully…

so I will speak God’s words of truth into them.

 

I never want my daughter to think she’s too much or that her sensitivity is somehow a shortcoming. She is not perfect. But I will spend this next year, this last year I have her at home with me all the live long day, making damn sure she knows she was created exactly as God intended her to be.

 

When We Say “I’m Not Called to That”

You know when you think you’ve got it all figured out? Like I have this exact idea of how I should live and should treat people and what I should do with my dang life. And I feel very confident in it. Even though I know some people are just very extreme, a little radical, which is so awesome and I LOVE that for them… that’s not really MY thing. I don’t need to live like that because I wasn’t CALLED to that. Living like that, like how they are a little bit crazy and a lot intense and TOTALLY different than “normal” people, THAT is a specific, individual calling. I was not called to that. I was “called” to live exactly as I am …. just normally. Like normal people do.

I like to do normal things. I am very comfortable with my family of 5, being a normal mom, going to the park and to church, living simply, smiling at people and stuff. I like the normalcy of our routine, with our bible studies and our playdates. I love that I’m a lot like most people I meet — it helps us “connect.” We have so many things to discuss, because we are SO SIMILAR in our normalness. Normal is predictable. I like that.

So I was having a discussion with someone the other day. I was wondering aloud, “Now, I know you don’t have to put your family in unsafe territories to tell people about Jesus. But what if the opportunity presented itself? Do I choose to trust that God will protect us? Would I move my family into an unsafe place if I was asked to? Is that choosing faith over fear? Or is that just being irresponsible?” This brought up the whole idea of “callings” and how some people are “called” to that and some people are not.

Called. That’s a very tricky word right there. Here’s what I think about that word. Sometimes, I think we use that word as an excuse to not do scary things.

First off, let’s get this out of the way. God gave each of us different gifts. That is not only biblical but visibly clear just by walking into a school building — each child is different, each requires different things, each is talented in his or her own way. We are to use these gifts to bring people to Jesus. Some people are gifted speakers, others (oh hey, me) say really weird things when they pick up a microphone. Some people are gifted teachers of young children (Hi, mom!), others would rather swim in a pool of sour milk with their eyes open than go inside a room full of 5-year-olds.

We are like a puzzle, each our own intricate piece, each essential, each unique. If we use our gifts wisely, if we work together in our individuality, we can create something breathtaking, show God to the whole world. But God does not expect a corner piece to jam itself into the middle of the puzzle. That corner piece belongs in the corner. It does GREAT THINGS in the corner. We could not complete the puzzle without it, we don’t expect it to change its shape so that it will fit there.

But, just because we are all unique, that doesn’t mean we don’t all have one common goal: complete the puzzle. Reveal the image of God. Show the world His Face.

We all have gifts that are completely individual to us and we can turn those into callings that are completely individual to us. But we also have callings that are not specific to our talents. These callings were placed upon all of us, EVERY SINGLE ONE, whether or not we asked for them or felt confident in them, the exact moment we chose to follow Christ.

Like feeding the hungry.

Like taking in orphans.

Like watching after widows.

Like loving the unloveable.

Like giving money and time and FACE to the destitute.

Like telling people about Jesus and helping them see how life is better with him in it.

 

Most of these things feel weird when you are living normally, because they are probably not part of your regular routine. Like, I totally take care of hungry people when there is an event for hungry people. I would totally sign up for that. And old people are the sweetest. If my church is going to the nursing home, count me in!

But what if our calling isn’t to do add that into our normal lives. Like on the side. I’ll have a serving of normal with a little dash of extraordinary on the side. What if our “calling” was for THAT to be our MAIN DISH? What if our everyday consisted of these things? What if it wasn’t out of the ordinary? Wouldn’t that create the most beautiful picture?

 

Normal is exactly where Satan would have me be. There is nothing threatening about normal. Normal is VERY SAFE. Normal is so comfortable. I can tie normal up with a nice, tidy bow and kiss it on the forehead because it’s JUST. SO. SWEET.

But miraculous things just don’t happen if I surround myself with normal, comfortable, safe things. Miraculous things do not happen unless I am willing to RISK. Unless I’m willing to sacrifice my comfort. My normal.

I don’t know what my specific calling is. I do know this though: we are all called to be RADICAL, extreme, CRAZY. We are NOT “called” to be normal.