A Simple, Meaningful Advent Calendar for the Family

But the older I get (and the more children I have), the more tension I feel at Christmastime. How do I create the perfect Christmas without making it all about a mythical being and gifts? How do I strike a balance between nauseating consumerism and fun-sucking religion?

In a season that so easily overwhelms, how can I slow down, lower my expectations, and point to the manifestation of Grace and Love in a way that excites my kids and blesses others?

When Motherhood Feels Like a Waiting Room: Settling into my present instead of waiting for my next

Motherhood is fraught with illusions of passing boats, convincing me that this is just a time of waiting: waiting for my boat, waiting for my turn, waiting for my next, like motherhood is just an in-between stage. I anticipate and prepare for the “after our kids…” instead of investing and digging into my NOW.

On Making Our Toddlers "Kindergarten Ready"

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.

Parenting Prophetically

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?

I Promise I'm Not a Jerk, I'm Just a Mom

I’m sorry. I’m just sorry, okay? I didn’t mean to cut you off. I really was trying to focus on your face and your words and make eye contact and offer relevant, interesting responses. I promise I have a couple of social skills.

It’s just that I have these two little parasites (that I love insanely). They sometimes knock me off-balance while scaling my legs like rock walls. Sometimes they awkwardly hide under my skirt mid-conversation. They grunt and scream a lot and try to catch my tongue when I talk. They are constantly on the verge of either disaster or meltdown, and I need to be on Red Alert, lest “a scene” be made.

Honestly, having an adult conversation when they are with me makes me sweaty. I feel like a juggling clown. And I’m not tossing around oranges. But something entirely more horrific like flaming swords or small cats or feral monkeys. Multiple objects requiring my undivided attention are being hurled at my face, and I am just trying not to sweat through my unironed shirt or break my tired smile.

Listen. I don’t want to be the mom that is incapable of having conversations because I’m so utterly captivated by all the adorableness of my precious offspring. However, I also don’t want to be the mom that forgets her child exists while out in public and subsequently is ignorant to the fact that my kid just knocked another kid off a scooter and rode off with William Wallace-esque freedom, leaving in her wake a lonely, weeping child. No matter how tempting to let somebody else deal with that mess.

I’m teetering on this line between momma-bear/helicopter-parent and welcome-to-my-adult-time-feel-free-to-discipline-my-child. I don’t think I’ve quite found the balance yet, though.

So let me apologize for all past and future social infractions.

I’m sorry about that time I cut you off in mid let-me-tell-you-my-struggle-right-now when my 2-year-old ran up shouting, “I need to go potty!” We were still in the middle (of a looooong) training and I knew the dribbling had probably already begun. Or that time I forgot your name, even though we’re definitely more than acquaintances because, well, I have no brain cells left. And especially for all the times I said, “I gotta go get these girls down for a nap,” while we were talking because trust me. I was serious. There is no Hell like “it’s nap time, but they are still not asleep Hell.”

Please don’t hear these as excuses. I hate that you think I’m a jerk.

It’s tempting to totally shut myself off from the social world because, honestly, it’s easier when my attention isn’t divided. It’s easier to go to the park and not feel like I’m insulting anyone when I run off to catch my child that is jumping from the ten-foot playscape. I know most people, especially moms, understand. But I still feel guilty.

But here’s an inspired idea. Let’s make a baby-less date and have a REAL conversation, devoid of parasites OR sweet, compliant children. I promise I’m much better at listening when I’m not distracted by the crying and the yanking and the “I HAVE TO GO POO-POO” and the “What’s that smell?” and the “Okay, we really better go.” I know you’re busy and I’m tired and evenings with our husbands are important. But I might go even crazier if I don’t talk about something other than Thomas or Elmo.

So I promise I will make an effort to pay attention to what you are saying when I spot you in the grocery store, if you promise you will forgive me if you have to speak over the screams of the two in my cart that have a thing against stopping.

And in a few years, I’ll be all ears. I’ll have nothing but time to just chat and listen. Please wait for me. Because I like you.

And in the meantime, I promise. I’m not a b. I’m just a mom.

Orphan Sunday

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

Yesterday was Orphan Sunday which is one of those Sundays you hope doesn’t come around while you’re uber-hormonal. I’m sure I had those around me wondering if I’d been orphaned based on the emotional outpouring I displayed. Not an orphan. Just pregnant. I left with a headache from clenching my jaw to hold in the sobs.

Orphan Sunday is also one of those uncomfortable Sundays that makes you squirm a little in your seat or tempt you to crawl under the pew and hide, for fear that the preacher is going to suddenly make eye contact and shout, “YOU! Have you run out of excuses yet?” Because really, hardly any of us have a very good excuse.

There are so many ways to look after orphans other than adopting or fostering. But when it comes to fostering a child, there seems to be one common, acceptable excuse: “I could never do that. I wouldn’t be able to give them back. It would be too hard. I couldn’t handle it.”

I used to think this same way. But if we can be honest for a second, can we admit that this is just an excuse for our own fear and selfishness?

Let me tell you about Katy and Jonathan.

Katy and Jonathan decided a couple of years ago to begin the process of fostering-to-adopt. When they received their first phone call, their own boys were 4 and 2. They had signed up to take one child, preferably 0-12 months. The social worker on the other end of the line was asking that they take two children, 2 (2 months younger than their youngest) and 15 months. 0 for 2 on that one. Committed to keeping the siblings together and feeling God’s urging, they said yes. A few months later, the mom had another baby. To make a long story short, a year later, after an attempted and failed reunion with mom, Katy and Jonathan now have five kids 5-years and under in their three-bedroom house.

And it’s been hard. Having five small children, three of whom are not your own and need you in a different and exhausting capacity is backbreaking, soul-searching, cry-out-to-God kind of day-to-day work. And there’s a chance they might go away again. And that will also be hard, just as it was the first time and the second time. The chaos will be replaced by a heart wrenching, questioning, haunting kind of stillness. The absence will soon be filled up with new faces that will require fresh, uncalloused love.

Now, don’t tell me that Katy thinks this is easy. Don’t tell me that she doesn’t question God both in the mayhem of five and the unsettling quiet of two. To say that we can’t do it because it would be too hard for us, that our hearts are just too soft, that we would love those children just too much, discounts every tear she has cried in the name of those babies. If it’s not too hard for her, it’s not too hard for us. We are no better or more feeling or more loving than she is. So let’s stop telling ourselves WE are not able.

Katy would be the first to tell you that she, alone, on her own two-feet is not able. She isn’t capable of making it through every day of every tantrum, of every phone call, of every parent meeting, of every drop-in visit, of every load of laundry (can you imagine?). She decided a long time ago that her flesh was worthless. But she believes God called her and her husband to this and promised them that they would not have to do this alone.

Valid reasons do exist. I am not saying we are all supposed to do exactly what Katy and Jonathan have done. But I am saying that if “I would love those children too much to let them go” is your reason not to, maybe that’s not a good enough one.

Don’t we want someone willing to invest their whole heart in these children? Don’t we want THAT kind of person to take on such a harrowing responsibility? Wouldn’t we want those raising them up to be so captivated by them that they were devastated upon separation? The kind that would love them like they were their own? That would share with them the love of Christ so that at least in one way, they would no longer be orphans?

As a fellow non foster or adoptive parent, allow me to step off my soap box and hypocritically ask that you stop making excuses, pray earnestly, and listen with an unbiased heart.

Loving too much, having a bleeding heart for these kids, these are reasons to DO something. Not excuses not to.

So please. Take a note from Katy. Love them too much. Cry when they leave. Your heart will surely break. But more importantly, that child’s heart will be filled by those tears. By the realization that he is wanted, known, cared for. That finally, she is loved.

** To follow Katy and Jonathan’s journey and read some raw, genuine thoughts on faith and fostering, visit themitchellmob.blogspot.com. **