Life Examined, Parenting

Because sometimes we have to break their hearts.

(Originally published on June 5, 2014)

As a mom, I’ve come to understand that one of the most painful things I’ll ever have to endure is watching my child hurt.

Simply the thought of them being in some sort of situation that causes them pain makes me want to turn the world upside down to seek justice for them.

It’s quite a natural phenomenon.  It’s in us.

Yet I’ve also come to understand that there are times when I must let them hurt.  Times when I need to step back and allow natural consequences take over so they can learn a lesson.  Sometimes the very best justice I can facilitate is the kind which causes growth.  An incident occurred Monday morning that caused this to be at the forefront of my heart.

At 5:30, I was awakened by Jyllian (9) who, in a panic, rattled this off to me:

“Mom!  I need you to get up right now!  I have a field trip today and I meant to tell you about it but we got busy over the weekend and I forgot and I need to find my permission slip and you’re gonna need to pack me a lunch and I need my S.M.A.R.T. shirt and I’m sorry I forgot to tell you but I need you to get up now okay?!

Mom?

Did you hear me?!”

I struggled to open my eyes and mumbled the only thing I could think to say at the moment:

“What?

She repeated a slightly different version of her speech, and as she finished I knew my day was already off to that kind of Monday morning start.  You know the kind.

So I dragged myself out of bed, and by the time I was done preparing my coffee I had already been through a whole crazy spectrum of emotions.

At first I was angry with the school.  Another field trip four days before the end of the year?  Good grief, just let summer vacation start already.

Then I was frustrated with her because being organized and remembering things are not her strongest qualities.  I pictured her at school on Friday at the end of the day, busy talking and laughing.  Pretty much worried about everything BUT bringing home her important paperwork.  I shook my head as I wondered if she’ll ever get it together.

Dramatic, I know.  It was early.

Then – in true mama fashion – I switched into problem-solving mode.

Okay…where’s the S.M.A.R.T. shirt?  Crap, it’s dirty.  Alright, that’s okay, give it the sniff.  Good, it doesn’t stink.  I’ll throw it in the dryer to get rid of the wrinkles.  Now…let’s check the book bag.  Maybe she overlooked the paper.  No, not in there.  Crap.  What if I write a note?  Yeah, I’ll write a note.  Or should I shoot her teacher an email?  No…a note.  That’ll give them written permission.  Yep, no biggie.  We’ll figure this out.  I’ll fix this for her.

And that was my intent.  I couldn’t stand the sight of her little eyes brimming with tears.  I couldn’t bear to think that she would have to watch her friends and the rest of the entire third grade leave, while she stays behind, like some sort of heel, with the office ladies…nice ladies that they are, of course.

But.  Something happened as I stood there next to the running dryer praying through it and waiting for her shirt to fluff.

I realized that while it may be easy (and satisfying!) to save the day, it might not be the right answer here. 

Because what would I be teaching her if I fixed this?

Jyllian, it’s okay for you to be irresponsible with your important school papers and wait until the last minute to tell me things.  Although I’m trying to teach you responsibility and organization, I’m here to bail you out when you’re irresponsible and unorganized–even if it means totally stressing myself out and bending over backwards to do so.

Umm…no.

Organization and remembering the important stuff are biggies on her list of things we’re working on.  It matters.

So…I turned the dryer off.

I walked upstairs empty-handed and sat down next to her on the couch.  And prepared to break her heart.

I told her I was sorry she wouldn’t be able to go on the field trip, but I had no control over it at this point.  (A half-truth.)  I reminded her that this is why it’s so important that she bring home her papers.  I explained that I would not be doing my job very well if I didn’t allow her to face the consequences in this situation.

Her tears flowed easier now and her face was red, and I felt like I might as well have been taking away her birthday.  And Christmas, and Easter, and summer vacation.

And it hurt.  Really bad.

But I found myself clinging to these three truths as I watched her finish getting ready for her day, with her world so obviously crumbling beneath her feet.

This is the time to equip and prepare.

Scott and I have come to a conclusion that has drastically changed the way we parent:  We are not raising children, we are raising adults.  We’ve learned that our role as parents is not to make sure our children have the best of everything and never have to face challenges or experience heartache.  Our job is to give them a realistic view of the world we live in and then equip them with what they’ll need to navigate the rough waters, while showering them with love and support.  Things aren’t fair.  Life is hard.  And we want them to become individuals who are responsible, well-adjusted, and know how to hear the word, “No.”  It’s okay for them to be upset.  It’s okay for them to be angry.  And while it may be painful for me to watch sometimes, the sooner they learn that the world is going to keep on spinning anyway?  The better.  Because it will.

Actions have consequences.

And so does lack of action.  I’m constantly trying to get them to understand the cause and effect principle.  What parent isn’t?  If you don’t put your bike away, it will get stolen or damaged.  If you do not feed and water the hamsters, they will die.  If you are unkind to others, they will not want to be around you.  And if you neglect to bring home your field trip permission slip for Mom to sign, you will not be able to participate. It’s really very simple.  We adults face natural consequences every day based on the decisions we make.  I’d rather that not be a shock to my kids when they venture out on their own.

My goal is to replace myself.

It was hard to take my cape off that morning.  I could’ve easily become the hero of the day.  Admittedly, at first I fantasized about presenting her with her shirt and a handwritten note that gave permission for her to go and watching her beam lovingly at me while I packed her a sack lunch.  But.  My emotional stance should never be that I need my children to need me.  I never want them to think that I am the do-all end-all, and that whatever it is they’re going through, I ALONE have the power to take care of it.  I’ve realized that I should be pointing them away from myself, and toward a God who can handle it all.

The desired fruit of everything I’m doing right now in this season of life comes down to this:  I want my children to be responsible, independent people who live their lives for the glory of God.  I need to be willing to do what it takes to make that happen.  Even the hard stuff.

I feel like that’s rare.  I feel sometimes like we’re the hardest parents on the block because we hold the line on our kids.  But when we heard that parenting was going to be the hardest thing we’ve ever done, we took that to heart and decided that we’re going to give it everything we’ve got even when it’s uncomfortable, inconvenient, and just plain doesn’t feel good.  We’re talking about the next generation here.  To us…it’s totally worth it.

Now, the cool thing is…she went on that field trip.  I had sent her off to school minus her special shirt and brown bag lunch, add plenty of tears.  But as I sat here stressing and wondering where she was and what she was doing and shedding a few tears of my own, the phone rang.

It was her counselor.  While she agreed with what I was doing, she was unable to have her stay behind because there would be no one there to be with her.  And after I gave my verbal permission and hung up the phone, my heart leaped a little.  I recognized it as a gift.

Because I feel like I passed a test that morning.  Like us, God is a loving parent willing to shower His children with blessings and gifts and love.  It’s in Him.  (Where do you think we get it?)  But, He’s also willing to do the hard stuff in order to teach us the lessons we need to learn.  Can I get an Amen?

I pray that you are willing and able to do what it takes to give your children all of those gifts today…the love and the hard stuff.  I believe they’re often one in the same.

“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.  Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.  They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.”    Psalm 127:3-5

Photo // Death to Stock

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All Smiles, Life Examined, Parenting

Beautiful.

The room fell silent.  The tech who was joking and laughing with us moments before had suddenly stopped talking and started squinting at the ultrasound screen.  My husband and I exchanged puzzled looks.

“Ok,” she said, getting up.  “I’m going to go get the doctor now; she’ll be right in.”  She smiled at us, though a little too deliberately for my liking.  The heavy door closed behind her.

My heart started to pound.  I knew what was about to happen, though with everything inside of me I wanted to get up and leave and not hear what the doctor had to say.  And I really didn’t want Scott to hear what the doctor had to say.  He looked at me and squeezed my hand.

We were in Maternal-Fetal Medicine that day having a 4-D ultrasound for two very specific reasons.  One was to find out if we were having a boy or girl.  The other was to check for deformities.  A cleft lip or palate.

When the doctor finally came in and took a seat, there was no small talk or laughing.  And we sat there in silence as she pushed on my belly with her equipment and clicked picture after picture of our baby’s face.

I remember squinting at the screen, wanting to see it first, before anyone pointed it out to me.  Like if I made the discovery, it would somehow soften the blow.

Finally she spoke.

And I would love to tell you what she said but I can’t remember.  For me, time stood still and the room closed in on me and the ugliest, most uncontrollable sobs started erupting from somewhere deep inside of me.  Perhaps what she said was, “Your worst fear has come to fruition.”

It would’ve been true.

There was a cleft in her lip.  In her lip.  Which made it worse–she would never have the choice to wear a mustache to hide the scar.

All of a sudden all I could think about were the looks.  The stares.  The pointing, the laughing, the names.  The questions.  Kids are so darn curious, but they can also be so mean.  

People can be so mean.

It scared me because I know.  I remember the pointing and the stares.  I remember the constant questions from well-meaning children who sincerely wanted to know what’s wrong with my lip and my nose…when all I wanted to do was pretend I was just normal.  I just wanted to be normal.

That day in the ultrasound room, the silence was broken with phrases like you’ll need to choose a surgeon before she’s born so they can be there soon after she arrives to evaluate her and it doesn’t seem that her palate is affected but we can’t rule that out yet.

And I would’ve given my right arm in that moment for it to be a normal prenatal checkup.

My husband was so loving that day.  (Once his head stopped spinning, I’m sure.)  He needed to wrap his mind around the situation as well, and I was certainly no help.  I had taken to my bed, going back and forth between bawling my eyes out and staring off into space, dreading the future.

He busied himself with making phone calls to friends and family members who were waiting to hear how things went.  They all responded with things like, “So?” and “Oh geez, that’s no big deal!”  This gave him confidence, at least, to deal with me.

He said something to me that day I’ll never forget.  He said, “Listen.  I know you can’t see past this right now.  But I can.  I see our daughter three, four years from now.  You know what she’s doing? Running around.  Playing.  Tormenting her sister.  Getting into trouble.  Just like a normal kid.  Because that’s what she is…a beautiful, healthy, normal kid.  I’m just so thankful she’s healthy.”

And that helped.  It did.  But it didn’t really take away the guilt and shame I felt.  She was going to be her daddy’s first child of his own, and I wanted to give him a perfect baby.  I felt like I had caused this with my horribly stupid genes.

Sometimes, the guilt and shame was replaced with discomfort.  Suddenly this part of me I had either tried to hide or ignore for so long was under a microscope.  In the spotlight.  I was that little girl again–and everyone was staring at me.

Then there was the fear.  I didn’t talk about it–I didn’t dare say it out loud.  It wasn’t something I wanted anyone to know I was feeling.  But it kept me awake at night.

I was afraid to see her.

Afraid to lay eyes on my precious baby girl for the first time…because I didn’t want to think she was ugly.  I was so afraid I would think she was ugly.  That first precious moment is supposed to be magical…and yet I dreaded it with my entire being.

 

She was born on a Friday afternoon, after about 26 hours of induced labor.  When the moment finally came to meet her I was once again overtaken by uncontrollable sobs just like during our ultrasound.

She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life.  (Everyone agreed.)  And I don’t know if it was such relief that I didn’t think she was a hideous monster or what, but I just couldn’t pull myself together.  Or stop looking at her.

She was so. stinking. beautiful.

Fortunately her cleft was very small…it looked like she was sucking her little thumb on the day her lip was forming.  Nothing like mine.  And even more fortunately, her palate wasn’t affected.  But I knew firsthand her journey was just beginning.

We began meeting with a surgeon.  We dealt with issues with nursing.  We watched her grow quickly and talked about what the future would hold for her.

Scott spoke boldly and proudly about her condition with anyone who asked–friends and strangers alike.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more timid about it.  I swore everyone was pointing and staring.  Whispering.  Part of me wanted to lash out and ask everyone what the big freaking deal was.  Yet a part of me now understood what my mom and dad had always told me…that they were SO proud of me, even when others were staring or making fun.  Some just didn’t really understand, and most…well, most just didn’t know what to say.

She was such a good baby.  If she wasn’t smiling and laughing she was sleeping.  And when she slept, she smiled and laughed.

When she was around four months old she had her first repair surgery.  She was in a lot of pain, and it was heartbreaking to watch, but we knew it was for her own good.  After she healed, she returned to her happy, normal self…though it was almost like she was just a little more wise, somehow.

The second repair surgery happened earlier this year.  Turns out her gum ridge was affected by the cleft, and so in order for her permanent teeth to have something solid to grow into, they needed to take bone and tissue from her hip and graft it into the cleft in her gum.

The surgery was a great success.  It was a little easier on Scott and I this time, though no one really ever prepares you for that moment when you have to watch them wheel your child into the surgery unit while they cry for you.

But she was such a strong, brave girl.  Always is.  So strong and brave, and just so beautiful inside and out.

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I try to help her understand what it took me a couple decades to figure out.  That God made her different just like He made Mommy different but He did it for a purpose.  That being “normal” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and anyway what even is normal?  She listens and tells me she understands, but I don’t know that she buys it yet.

I can see it in her…the effects of this affliction.  Sometimes it’s when I watch her practice her smile in the mirror so as to minimize the appearance of her scar.  Or when she asks if she’s pretty.  We’re sold a standard of beauty these days that drives us girls crazy, aren’t we?  Doubly so when you’re a girl trying to stave off the well-meaning questions of those around you about why you look the way you do.

And we can wax philosophic all day about inner beauty and why it’s all that really matters. Yes, of course it matters.  But I swear to you, after thirty-some years there’s still a little girl inside of me who just wants to feel normal on the outside.  Pretty, even.

So I simply try not to do that to her.  The inner beauty thing smooths feathers but it really doesn’t answer that heart cry.

I spent most summers growing up recovering from surgeries.  I’ve answered questions ranging from the innocent Did you get bit by a dog on your lip? to How can someone be so ugly?!  I spent countless hours comparing myself to other people, hiding from other people, and trying to fit in.  I would lay awake at night, praying desperately that God would take this from me.  I secretly hoped that I would wake up one day completely “healed” and “normal.”

 

(me at birth)

 

(my first repair surgery)

It wasn’t for lack of acceptance, love, or affirmation.  My mom always told me I should pursue modeling because I’m so beautiful.  Still does.  (Ha! Thanks, Mom.)  And it’s certainly not because I didn’t understand how important inner beauty was.

I don’t know, I guess I just had to walk through it and endure and be refined all along the way.  And my girl does too.

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So I tell Katie that she’s beautiful – when she asks and often when she doesn’t.  I tell her how much I admire her beautiful heart, because she’s such a loving, compassionate person.  I cry with her when her feelings get hurt by her peers.  I teach her to look for purpose in all things – even these annoying, crappy things we wish weren’t even things.  We spend most of our time thanking God for it all.

I’m thankful to have walked this path before her and can help her navigate.

But I do all of this knowing that, at the end of the day, this is her journey.  I can’t shield her from it all.  And I guess I wouldn’t want to, because I know that this is going to be that one thing that God will use to sanctify her more than anything else.

My beautiful, beautiful girl.

And to all who may be reading this, here’s the thing I need you to hear:  Stories like mine and Katie’s?  They’re the easy ones.  The happy ones.  Riddled with complications and insecurities, sure.

But there are heartbreaking tales of children and adults around this world who have never had a repair surgery due to having no access to a surgeon and/or money for the operation–and those are just people who have survived.

They’re often shunned or beaten.  Told that they’re cursed and hated by God.  Babies are left to die.

Complications go way beyond outward appearance.  Eating and drinking can range from difficult to impossible, depending on the severity of the deformity.  Speaking and breathing can be a major struggle.  For them…being beautiful is the furthest thing from their minds.

So, what is the response supposed to be?  Awareness is the beginning.

Check out the Mia Moo Fund website.  Jase and Missy Robertson (of Duck Dynasty fame) do fantastic things to raise awareness and funds in order to help children affected by clefts.  Their daughter, Mia, was born with a cleft. They say every child deserves to have a smile.  I tend to agree.

Operation Smile does the same type of thing.  It’s comprised of a large network of donors and volunteer surgeons and staff.  They travel the world to provide safe surgeries, often to the poorest countries.  The stories on their website are both beautiful and heartbreaking.

Smile Train is another phenomenal resource, much the same.  They offer really cool opportunities to give, like running races or starting a fundraiser to celebrate a wedding or a birthday.

Give these a look.  And thank you so much for reading.

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Life Examined, Parenting

Over the fence.

My girls,

Oh, the beautiful wonder of childhood.

I can see it in you; the way your eyes sparkle and dance when we play.  The sweaty, red-faced breathlessness of pure joy.  The way you look at me when I collapse to the floor and become a tangled heap of arms and legs with you.  (Those little feet and armpits aren’t going to tickle themselves, you know.)

It causes me to remember a time–not so long ago–when slipping between the slats of that fence which divides this world from a lovely daydream was so easy…

Anne was my best friend, and we roamed the expanse of Green Gables together many a hot summer day. Sara Crewe knew just how to bring out the best in me, with her kind demeanor and heart for the outcast.  She, too, knew heartache and trouble, yet she taught me that all little girls are princesses, no matter what.  This is all in addition, of course, to the hours I spent in the midst of a wild adventure while I waited for my prince to come save me.

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You girls are there.  You are my gate back into that world with your endless games of make-believe and magic.  You invite me in to that place where the world is so much simpler. And you’re going–with or without me.  There are battles to be won and friends to be saved and horses to be ridden in this other place.  Oceans to explore and tea parties to be had along with grand feasts of dandelions and grass in a thick muddy sauce.

I am so thankful for this gift.  Thankful that you would want me to join you there, and thankful that I’m still captivated enough by the beauty of that place to accept your invitation.

Praying today that you are still able to fit between the slats for a long time to come.  Or peer over the fence, at least.  It’s beautiful over here.  Thank you for bringing me back.

Love,

Mom

Photo // Unsplash

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Life Examined, Parenting

Things I forgot between babies.

I feel like six years between babies is a long time.

For us, that included about three years thinking that we might not have another, the realization we might want to try again, and another two plus years trying to actually conceive.

So when Evan finally showed up, in some ways it was almost like I was a new mom all over again.  I realized quickly that I had forgotten so many things about this precious baby-stage.  Some of the stuff I probably “forgot” on purpose.  (Hello, total, utter exhaustion.)  Other things were a reminder of how sweet this time can be, and had me longing for those days when my girls were my bouncing new bundles.

While each baby is so different, there are those things which mark that time when our whole world has just been turned upside down.  I want to share some with you now.

37 Things I Forgot Between Babies

1.  That baby smell.

2.  How miserable the last trimester is.

3.  How exhaustion pushes the limits of how tired you can actually be and still manage to function.

4.  Quiet nighttime feedings, when it seems like it’s just the two of you in the whole world.

5.  How babies pee with amazing force and accuracy.

6.  The sweetness of nursing.

7.  The challenges of nursing.

8.  How fast they grow.

9.  How being within three feet of a baby makes even the most stoic person talk like a total fool.

10.  The mom bounce/rock/sway and how hard it is NOT to do anytime you’re standing up. (I’ve been known to absentmindedly cradle and rock a purse or toy a time or two!)

11.  First smiles.

12.  How bold people are to touch your pregnant belly.

13.  The magic of that first meeting.

14.  Why labor is called that.

15.  The ability to do everything one-handed.  Cooking, cleaning, brushing teeth…

16.  First laughs.

17.  How heavy and awkward those darn baby carriers are.

18.  How much stuff a baby needs is bought.

19.  How expensive formula and diapers are.

20.  The joy of getting to know this tiny person and watching their personality develop.

21.  How loud and dangerous the world seems when you’re bringing baby home.

22.  Being so excited about the next stage.

23.  Wanting baby to stay a baby forever.

24.  How much you’re willing to let yourself go hygiene-wise and still be able to stand it.

25.  How much you’re willing to let the house go and still be able to stand it.

26.  How delicious some baby food is.

27.  Babies (and pregnancy) are great conversation-starters. And buffers.

28.  How often medical advice changes.

29.  The well-meaning advice from everybody.

30.  Dreading laying baby down for fear they’ll wake up.

31.  Deciding to hold them for the duration of the nap.

32.  The back pain associated with holding a baby for such a long period of time.

33.  The quick-witted ability to make up lullabies.

34.  Baby clothes.

35.  Hormones.

36.  How babies are so cute it makes you borderline angry.

37.  Trying to soak up each moment so as to not forget a single thing.

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