Confessions of a Summer Mom

I yelled at my kids. No, I screamed. It was the kind of scream that made my throat hoarse after. It was the kind of scream that caused my daughter to nervous laugh and my son, with a face of astounding bewilderment, to follow suit. This upset me even more. 

After what I suspect was the result of days or even weeks of festering, built-up frustration and stress, I yelled at my kids as we were trying to head out the door. 

Then, the shouting stopped and the burning in my throat subsided. Tears came as immediate guilt set in. An apology of “I’m sorry and I just need you to listen,” escaped my lips. My son pointed at the trail of black mascara lining my cheek as my empathetic daughter’s eyes welled up with tears. Her little hand patted my back. “It’s okay, Mom.” 

It was as if the puss had suddenly been released from an infected wound. The built-up intensity that often smolders beneath the surface had escaped.

“Let’s pray,” I suggested. We held hands, making our own mini circle. “When two or more are gathered,” I thought. “Even little hearts count.” I sought forgiveness from the Lord and my kids. I thanked Him for my precious children, whom despite my outburst, I really, truly love. After the cycle of anger, guilt and redemption was complete, I felt my shoulders relax. My body still shaking like it had witnessed a traumatic event, felt lighter as we shuffled out the door. 

Leaving Target proved to be rather trying. John scream-cried as I grabbed the bags and swiftly pushed the red cart away from the check stand. I made my way to the exit, ignoring the howls and crocodile tears. My hair was pulled and arms scratched as I wrestled his heavy, wriggling, and oh-so-stubborn, almost three-year-old body into the car seat. 

“I just wanted to see something cool!” He wailed. 

“I just wanted you to listen,” my mind echoed. How could I blame him after what he had just witnessed his mom do before we left the house. If this tantrum keeps up, maybe I’ll shed those five pounds I’ve gained since summer started just trying to buckle him in. 

I find summer to be quilt difficult. I never seem to remember how difficult it can be. The routine has changed for everyone and I find that I am actually the one struggling to adjust the most. My free time seems limited to minutes a day and not even consecutive ones, or late at night if I can stay up that long. 

I haven’t been motivated to write or work out. I often question when is the earliest, most socially acceptable time to start drinking wine on a given weekday. Some days all I want to do is curl up and binge watch Outlander. Sometimes it seems my singular goal for the day is when I get to have time to myself. 

“Another episode?” my daughter asks. 

“Sure.” It gives me more time to just sit here. Am I wasting away a summer with my kids, letting precious memory-filled possibilities slip through the cracks? Instead of waking up with the excitement of a new day, I find myself stressed, tired, lazy, and unmotivated.

What is wrong with me? 

My husband reassures me that I’m not a mean mom and when I ask my daughter, she says I seem mostly happy. Yet, I feel all I am doing is constantly correcting behavior, setting or restating boundaries, and saying “don’t do this or that.” 

Is this all a mom does? Is it just me because other moms seem calmer than myself? Is this just on the surface? Are they smoldering underneath as well? Are summers just as hard for them? 

Maybe this explosion of emotions in front of my kids was the release that finally needed to happen. I do somehow feel lighter. Much like that feather floating in the Forest Gump movie, feeling so heavy and not quite comfortable where I landed, I needed that gust of wind to pick me up and float me off again. 

Around the end of July last summer, I wrote about how to avoid the sometimes tempting downward spiral of self-pity. Something to do with the time I year I suppose. My body and mind lull and I’m needing to find motivation and increase my positivity and energy. Much like the green tomato on my windowsill that fell off the tomato plant too early, I need time to redden and ripen in the morning sun. 

In the summer blog post I wrote about a year ago, I said that I found scripture, self-care, and friends to be among the things that can remedy my mid-summer slump symptoms. I needed to be reminded of this again. 

I had the most comforting thought driving home tonight after spending a couple hours over a couple drinks with some friends.  And that is, “I’m not the only one.” 

It isn’t just me who is crazy and feeling these feelings. It isn’t just me who feels constantly on edge, impatient, or angry. I’m not the only one who feels that I am in constant output mode with very little received or what seems to be very little to show for it. 

My kids aren’t the only ones with difficulties. I’m not the only one who can’t seem to manage my time to workout or read my bible. Summer is difficult for other moms too. 

It isn’t just me. I’m not the only one.

It isn’t just you. You are not the only one. 

Earlier this summer, I wrote a little story about a trip to Trader Joes. I thought the story in itself held a great theme for the summer. That is, letting the kids be the lead in making the memories. This involves improvising, going with the flow, and not being rushed:

“Today, we went to Trader Joes after a fun summer morning at the park. Normally, when at any grocery store with kids, I put my two, almost three year old son in the shopping cart seat right by me and talk to him about what we need to find. My five year old daughter walks along the side and helps put items in the cart. 

This time however, as we approached the entrance and I grabbed my usual big cart,  my daughter pleaded to push one of the small kid carts. I didn’t feel like arguing with her because, well, what was my reasoning? That shopping would be harder? That it would take longer? Was I in a rush to leave? It’s summer, what else do I have going on? So I said, “sure,” and waited for what was coming next. 

“I want to push a shopping cart too!” my son shouted. 

So in we went, two kids, two kids carts, one list, and one mom who prepared herself for this sudden improvisational shopping trip. 

I laughed numerous times and apologized to strangers profusely. I directed cart traffic, barked orders, pulled one cart and pushed the other and confiscated extra treats that were snuck in.  It took us twice as long at the store, if not longer. 

At the end they got to help unload the cart at checkout and received some surprise stickers. I quickly traded in the two little carts for a big one because I was not about to let them out in the parking lot with those things. 

With the shopping bags loaded in the big cart,  I placed my son back into the cart seat and my daughter held onto the side of the cart. I accepted the receipt and breathed a sigh of relief. Things were back to normal. I was back in my comfortable place as we made our way to the car. 

I could have said no to my kids and made them shop in our usual way, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable. Not nearly as special to them. Not to mention, the tantrum or fit that would have ensued had I said, “no.”

Improvisation is never the quick or easy route. It certainly wasn’t quick or easy at TJs today. I shouldn’t always be so quick to say, “no.”

Mothers are the master improvisers, but it’s not always easy.  Letting my kids in on the daily music of life or the writing I create, which almost always is inspired by them, will open up more opportunities for improvisation, which could lead to deeper and more meaningful experiences and stories.”

Keeping my kids in the lead on making memories is important to remember here. But more importantly, in order to let them lead, I need to remember to take care of myself. 

After my angry outburst that occurred earlier this summer, I have done the things that have proven to help replenish my depleted resources. I have read scripture, met with friends, went on a date with my husband, started working out, and have taken some meaningful time to write, read or just be. 

I find myself in the last half of August (say it isn’t so!), in a much better place. We’ve made some wonderful memories and it’s been a good summer. 

Shoebox of Joy

A timeline of my life spread out before us as we floated on my bed in a sea of necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. A significant amount of these jewelry pieces I forgot I even had. They remained tucked away in a shoebox in the back of my bedroom closet since our move several months back.

My first gold cross necklace from when I was a young girl catches my eye along with my grandmother’s diamond heart necklace. Both remind me of my family roots and deeply held faith. A locket my husband gave me when we were in high school and a teal beaded necklace from our honeymoon in Maui remind me of the love we’ve shared.

All the memories came flooding back to me. It’s like when you hear that once familiar song or smell the scent that reminds you of that distant memory. As I sat there with my daughter sorting through my accessorized past, I let my jewelry take me back on a journey through the younger years.

Hadley found a little box of dangly earrings and dumped them out in her lap, tossing the box aside. She sifted through her pile as if  she was scooping up handfuls of sand looking for lost treasure. It was like she had been presented with a box of chocolates and was taking a bite of every one to experience each flavor, but doing so at an incredibly fast rate. Declarations of joy and surprise left her lips, “Ahh!”, “Nice,” and “Hehe, look at these!”

She held up a pair of long dangly gold earrings with maroon faux gems, circa 2004. “Ohh these are pretty!” She tossed them aside. “Oh look, the Eiffel Tower!”

“I forgot I had those!” I smiled picking up the other Eiffel Tower earring and holding it next to the one in Hadley’s hand. They reminded me of my always obsession with Paris and anything French.

“These are pretty. Can I put them on you?” Her eyes lit up like the Paris sky.

“Sure, just be careful.” I leaned in and felt her little fingers tickle my ear lobe, gently searching for the “cut,” as she called it. She had found a chocolate to savor just a little longer.

“Am I hurting you?” She carefully stuck the looped backing in and pulled it down.

“No, you’re doing great.” I smiled fully content and relaxed.

Hadley had really wanted to go through my jewelry ever since she had received a create-your-jewelry box kit for her 5th birthday. We put it together and she filled it with a few of her bracelets, a horse necklace, and Sofia amulet.  She’s been “into jewelry,” every since. Particularly, my jewelry it seems. She’ll ask questions about what I’m wearing, which honestly right now rotates between my two favorite pairs of stud earrings and my Tiffany’s heart necklace.

We discovered that one of Hadley’s favorite pieces of jewelry of mine was a shell necklace. One smooth, pearly, round shell hung from a string of tiny green beads. This was one that I got my first time in Maui with my family.

Trips to Edmonds beach are among her favorite summertime activities and our annual Whidbey Island trip every spring with our family is her happy place. We’ve collected numerous rocks, sea glass, and shells from the beaches there and filled a mason jar that we keep in the kids’ bathroom to remind us of our beach trips. This beachy shell necklace must remind her of that. I could almost feel the warm Maui sun on my sand-covered toes as I held the necklace in my hand. Maybe she pictured walking along the rocky shore with Nana and Grandma, clutching fist fulls of precious beach treasures.

Recently, I’ve jumped in on the “Tidying Up,” phenomenon. I’ve scoured parts of the house and asked myself the all-important question, “Does this bring me joy?” Some things have yet to be Marie Kondo’d in my house and my jewelry is one of those things.

We had completed the first step by dumping it all out on the bed. Would this be the day I’d tackle my jewelry? Would I hold each piece in my palm, ask if it brought my joy, thank it, and part ways or put it back in my shoebox?

Before having kids, I used to accessorize regularly with long necklaces or dangly earrings. I’d get compliments on my outfits and jewelry. Whether going out with friends or heading off to work, I had the time to carefully select the jewelry I wanted to wear. Never anything expensive, but carefully planned and put together.

As I’ve gotten older and become a mom, I’ve found that simple and important pieces of jewelry are what have remained steadfast. The long and dangly bling of my past, I could let go of. Or at least, stuff away in a shoebox.  

My husband gave me the heart locket a few months after we started dating for my 18th birthday. I wore that locket most days. I worked as a server at a local cafe my first year of college.

Before each shift, I’d tuck that necklace under my stiff, white collared t-shirt and secure the green apron around my waist. My nights at the cafe were spent counting down the hours until I was off and got to go see him. I’d reach up to feel the locket between my fingers bringing me a bit closer to him as I waited for that last table to leave.

One night, I reached up to feel the necklace, only to find it wasn’t there. My heart raced and panic swelled up in my chest as I breathed slowly trying to stifle the tears. I had lost it!

I searched the cafe floors and checked to see if the locket had slipped down my shirt. In the moonlight, I  peeked under and in between the seats in my car. A fellow server took a flashlight out to the parking lot to help me look. I can’t remember where the necklace actually was, but I know it was found, because I still have it.

This heart locket necklace will always have significance for me because it came from the man who has loved me unwaveringly for half of my life. It’s also a reminder for me that each piece of jewelry has a story and a connection to my past, like a small fragment of shell or smoothed-out sea glass in a jar full of collected memories acquired over the course of a lifetime.

I didn’t end up getting rid of any of my jewelry that day. I scooped up the dangly earrings and placed them back in their little box. I closed my grandmother’s jewelry box and gathered all my Hawaii necklaces and laid them back in the shoebox.

That wasn’t the day to sort through my jewelry and decide if it brought me joy. Because, honestly, all of it did. It was a box of my past, present, and as I sat there with my daughter, future. Parts of me I might never be able to explain to her, and the parts she may never know of me, and yet all the parts that make up the person that I am today.

 

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Remember This.”

It’s a Jungle Out There

My plea furiously fled through my fingertips. Tears streamed down my face. I tightly grasped my phone, my seemingly only source to reach the outside world, as I typed out my frantic message. Facebook, my only method I could think of at the time to reach people quickly. I needed help. I needed advice and I needed it fast:

“Okay… Now would be the time for words of encouragement or advice from moms with two or more kids. The first kid will be okay right? My poor girl is having a really hard time and my heart is breaking for her. We’ve only been home with her little brother for 4 days and it’s been really hard. We even have tons of help! But Hadley has regressed in her potty training and pees her pants every 30 minutes, cries all the time, has lost focus to play or complete any kind of task. Those are just a few things. To make it worse, I can’t pick her up or hold her in my lap because of my stupid c section. Oh and she has a cold so the little guy and I have been upstairs all day. I’m like the neighbor who says “ hi,”  occasionally to her. I just need to hear that it will get better and that she’ll be okay.”

The transition to two kids was one of the hardest things I have ever had to go through. My second c-section had made my ability to stretch my love to reach two children seem totally impossible. I was grasping for any advice or help to get me through. I had all the physical help one could possibly have with two grandmas, two aunts, and my dear husband, rotating around the clock at our house. I didn’t have many close friends who had more than one kid at the time. Words of encouragement were what I needed, even if they were from someone who was a, “Facebook friend.”

Words seem to sometimes not be enough. When a stranger offers advice or a kind life lesson phrase, often unwanted or unsolicited, it can seem empty and shallow. Even when someone close to us offers a word of wisdom, depending on our mood, it can seem cliche.

Sometimes though, words are exactly what we need to hear. We are desperate for them. Desperate to hear the words that affirm our thinking, feelings, and experience.  

I got a lot of responses from my post that day. Some I clung to.

That’s just it. When we get a response or phrase we find hope in or we like, we cling to it.

The kids and I started watching a new show on Netflix, Our Planet. The first episode we watched was, The Jungle. Dodging poison dart frogs, picking off ants, our young watching our every move while learning and growing, are just a few examples of how I related motherhood to the jungle, figuratively and literally, while watching this show on Netflix. This got me thinking about life as a jungle. This tangled up, intricate, intense, beautiful display of life, is made up of layers, much like the jungle, and the different experiences people have.  

Sometimes we get so stuck in our motherhood lives, tangled in roots at the jungle floor, that we forget other people outside of our home have lives too. They have been through things. Hard things. Sad things. We will never know where the well-meaning comment or advice stemmed from that the person behind us in-line at the grocery store so graciously shared. All we see is the spit-up, tantrums, and the smell of our showerless selves on a continual basis. It is truly difficult to see good intent and take the advice for what it is. Honest, truthful and heartfelt (most of the time). It’s hard to see the whole jungle or even know it’s there, when you feel stuck at the forest floor. There are people who have seen more of the jungle than we have. Perhaps we should listen to what they have to say.

Like anything, it is challenging to see beyond the circumstance you are in, which is why I think taking advice or a meaningful comment from someone looking in (if only a for a 2-minute glimpse) might not be such a bad thing. If you like it, take it and cling to it.

I believe when people offer us moms advice or words about motherhood, that we shouldn’t take offense so easily. People are well-meaning. Especially women who are older and are moms. They have been through the jungle (Maybe they still are in it. Do we ever leave?), but have seen the other side. Maybe their kids are grown and they know that we will truly miss these days? How are we to know if we haven’t been through it?

There is something to be learned from people who aren’t in the same stage of life we are in. We should not so easily brush them off as misunderstanding or overstepping strangers.  Just because they aren’t sweeping away the thick jungle foliage with us, doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to offer or haven’t swept away huge jungle leaves themselves.

Now that I’ve adjusted to life with two kids and I’ve, “been through that part of the jungle,” I can see the beauty of having two kids. I see my son and daughter playing together, laughing, even arguing and learning, and I know that all that jungle madness I went through was worth it. My heart did indeed stretch and my love reached them both. This is not something I would have known unless I experienced it myself. No amount of words of wisdom or advice could have gotten me through or prepared me. I had to live it. Breath it. Let it crush me down like a pounding rainfall, only to let me rise up again spilling over with bigger, greener leaves and a colorful display of tropical blooms.

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This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series on “Rewriting the Script.”

He Needs Room, Not Perfection

“Mom, will you write Jesus down for me so I know how to spell it?” Hadley asked. She continued on with her plan, “I’m going to write him a note.”

“Of course,” I responded with surprise. My daughter proceeded to set up her spot at the kitchen table. Colored construction paper, stickers, and our bucket of markers were carefully arranged. Finally, she settled herself down in the chair.

She started drawing figures on her paper. “What color is Jesus’ hair?” She looked up at me curiously as I wrote down J-E-S-U-S on a notecard and slid it in front of her.

“Brown hair.” I took a swig of water, “Here, I’ll get your bible and we can look at the picture.” I grabbed her children’s bible from the kids’ bookcase and flipped to the new testament. There was an illustration of Jesus showing his typical smile, long brown hair, flowing robe, and outstretched arms, that you so often see in children’s bibles. “There, see,” I pointed out, “brown hair.”

Hadley glanced at the picture to confirm and then continued on with her drawing. I stood there wondering what had brought on this sudden urge to write Jesus a note. This idea was somehow laid on Hadley’s heart and she had responded by taking action. I was so proud of her. So often, when things are laid on our hearts, they are sudden and almost out of nowhere. She must have felt that she needed to speak to Jesus.

One of Hadley’s favorite things to do lately is draw pictures or write notes to her family and friends. The people she loves most dearly get these special art creations from her. And now Jesus, was one of them. This was her way to show Him that she loved Him.

“I hope the mailman will be able to get this to Him.” Hadley continued coloring in her and Jesus standing together. I wanted to tell her, “He’s already got it sweetheart. He already knows everything in your heart. We don’t even need to mail it.” But I also wanted to continue to support her desire to mail this letter and complete this act of worship for Christ.

“I’ll get an envelope. Then you can write His name on the front.”  I suggested.

“I’ll draw a house on a cloud too.” she concluded.

“Good idea.” I grinned. “This is the sweetest thing ever,” I thought to myself. My heart was full.

A few minutes later, as Hadley was starting to decorate the front of the envelope, sounds of frustration could he heard. “Uhhhh, No!” she cried.

I approached the kitchen table, “What is it?”

“I can’t get the J right! It has to be perfect!” Hadley explained. She started to write her J again, the hook was getting her caught up. She must have wanted it to look exactly like mine. Again, I thought to myself what I wanted to say to her, “It doesn’t have to perfect. Jesus loves this gift you’ve given Him.” Only this time instead of keeping the thought to myself, I had to share.

“Hadley, it doesn’t have to perfect. That is the wonderful thing about Jesus. He doesn’t expect perfection from us. Just try your best. It’s the thought that matters.”

“Uhhh, no! It has to be perfect!” She declared again. I realized in that moment, I just had to step back and let her wrestle with it. I had said my piece, but she was in the thick of it and hadn’t really heard what I was trying to say.

After several attempts, she was satisfied enough with her J. She had moved on, added the final touches on her envelope and note. I was still stuck on her frustration though. What brought on this need for perfection?

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I’ve never thought of myself as a perfectionist. I can let little things go. In my career, as a teacher, I feel many educators tend to lean towards the perfectionist personality type, although not all.  I remember one group activity in particular during a staff meeting where we had to make a poster about… something (okay the details of the group assignment fail me). Someone had asked me to write. Somehow I always get stuck writing on these dang group posters. I do not have neat teacher handwriting. I am not a perfectionist and my handwriting is crap. I am also left-handed, so my hand just drags past my letters smearing the ink on the paper and my hand,  but I always end up having to write on these lovely group charts. At any rate, we had been listing bullet points to go with whatever the main idea of our poster was. I started creating bullet points for things we hadn’t written in yet, only to discover we had one pre-created bullet point left and no other details to add. Did this bother me? No. “Let’s make it into a star.” I suggest. “I’ll just cross it out.” Looks of sheer horror and disgust were thrown my way. I could see some teachers in my group grappling with what to put with that last unclaimed bullet point! I was however, done and completely satisfied with our task.

While I declare I am not a perfectionist, that I am easy going and don’t feel the need to control everything, my husband might argue differently with me. He and I love the tv show Friends. We constantly throughout our ten years of marriage and dating before that, have shot back and forth Friends related quotes and banter. I always thought of myself as a Rachel. But my husband was quick to correct me. “No, no. You’re most definitely a Monica. You’re Monica, with the looks of Rachel, and the appetite of Joey.”

I totally agree. He’s right. I’m Monica. I like things neat and clean. I don’t like clutter. Bins are my jam. My kids will have memories of putting away toys in bins for years to come. If I were to choose a category where I am closest to being a perfectionist, it is definitely keeping a tidy home. This is why the mantra, “It’s better than it was,” is so helpful to me while I clean and organize. This is why I am trying to delight in my children at this age and embrace the crunching beneath my feet as I walk across the kitchen floor.

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So this brings me to my question. If Jesus doesn’t expect perfection from us, why do we expect it of ourselves? I’m not sure. It can be exhausting to expect perfection from yourself or from others. I recently read a quote from Ruth Chou Simons @gracelaced: ”So fluff, fold, and tidy up in this season, but more importantly- let’s have decluttered hearts that prepare Him room.” She was referencing this holiday season and the need we can sometimes feel to have our homes perfectly decorated and prepared. It struck me because this is an area of weakness for me where perfectionism can rear its ugly head. Rather than focusing on outward tidying of things, more importantly, my heart needs to be tidied and uncluttered. I need to make room for Jesus, just as my daughter did when she wrote Him her love note. I hope I can continue to encourage Hadley that Jesus doesn’t expect perfection from her and nor do I. Jesus doesn’t expect a perfect heart. He just needs room to be there.

These Two Boys

These two boys. They have no idea the amount of joy and love they’ve brought with them into this world.

They don’t yet know that their moms spent their childhood together. They don’t know that it all started because one of us decided to sit next to the other on the bus, as it huffed toward school that first day of kindergarten. They don’t know the number of sleepovers, Mariah Carey lip syncs, or the amount of times that we both declared an undying love for A-Rod.

They don’t know that we were there for eachother during the brutal adolescent years. Through the acne, boy crushes, heartbreaks, and poor fashion choices.

They don’t know that we were in each other’s wedding party and that we gave speeches, read poetry, and said “cheers,” to lifelong happiness. They don’t know the tears that were shed when our hearts desired to be moms so badly. Or, the sheer joy we felt when we met one another’s babes and we finally were.  They don’t know the delight that our hearts experience when we see our children talking, playing, hugging or interacting together.

But they do know that walking with a friend and splashing in puddles is pretty much the best thing ever.

Luke,

Your mom is one of the kindest, most thoughtful souls I have ever met. You bring her more joy than you could possibly know. She was meant to be your mother. Her heart couldn’t have been more ready for you. And just as she has always been there for me, she will always be there for you.

She is smart, so smart. Brilliant. She’s got the best sense of humor and can effortlessly exchange banter with the best of them. 

Sometimes your mom and I go for a stretch of time without talking or seeing one another. Life just gets in the way. However, we have known each other for decades, and the bond that was made all those years ago, will always remain.

With Love,

Kayleen

The Mount Everest of My Childhood

Growing up, my family lived in a cul-de-sac that resided in the middle of a rather large hill. The entrance to our neighborhood was at the top of the hill and our cul-de-sac was about halfway down, off to the right. We were at a terrible spot for playing basketball, riding a bike, or playing tag. You had to know how to chase downhill after a runaway ball, apply the brakes skillfully on your bike, or run at a sideways incline to try and catch your friend.

It was terrible for driving uphill during the winter after it had snowed and the roads froze over. For many years, my parents would park their cars at the top of the hill, where you entered our neighborhood, along with the majority of the neighbors, when a big snow hit. Otherwise, good luck climbing up the hill to get out of our neighborhood. Our entertainment for many snowy days was to look out our big front room window and watch the cars attempt to make it up the hill. After several attempts, sometimes the cars would make it. Other times, they would abandon ship and their car would be left there mid-way up the hill on the side of the road until the temperature rose.

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It snowed big the day before our wedding and then froze over. On that December morning of our wedding day, the roads, trees, basically everything, was covered in icy white snow. The bridal party met that morning at my parent’s house to get ready.

Later that afternoon, we were assembled and ready to make our way to the wedding venue. However, one of my bridesmaids couldn’t get her car back up the hill to get out of our neighborhood. My mind flashed back to the snow days of my youth where I’d stare out our window watching the cars attempt the trek up. Would hers be one that would make it to the top or would it be abandoned on the side of the hill like so many others had been in the past? My dad had spent years, I mean years, learning the best way to get a car up our snowy, frozen hill. He’d avoid it altogether if he could, but sometimes he couldn’t. I would cheer for him from our front room window hoping he’d make it up. However, I always secretly wished that he couldn’t make it and he’d have to stay home with us on our snow days. Nonetheless, he was a good negotiator with the snow and ice.  

This time, as I sat in our Highlander, which my dad had pulled over to the side of the road mid-hill, with my hair up, make-up applied, wrapped up in my white wedding dress, I was glad he was good with snow and ice. We held our breath watching my dad thrash it out with the icy road. After several attempts, he was able to get the car up the hill. Huddled in the Highlander, where we had watched with suspense, my mom, maid of honor, and myself collectively let out a breath of relief.

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It seemed if you were able to make it to the last set of mailboxes towards the top of the summit, you were golden. You could make your way to the top of the hill and out of the neighborhood from there. This was the case, if you climbed up on foot as well. Which, my brother and I had to do to catch the school bus, everyday for many years. I don’t remember many, “let me drive you to the bus stop,”  offers from our parents. Typically, rain or shine, snow or ice, we hiked up our hill to our stop.

There is one walk to the bus stop in particular that I will always remember. It had been cold and snowy the past few days, then the temperature started to rise. The snow and ice had begun to melt and elementary school was back in session. This meant that my brother and I had to make our daily ascent to the bus stop. However, the melting ice and snow made for the slushiest, slipperiest climb I can ever recall. My older brother, my mountain guide, went a couple strides ahead of me. “ Walk in my footsteps,” he said. I was bundled up from head to toe and I was starting to sweat. My glasses started to steam up as I slipped and slid with each step. It was like one of those terrible dreams, where you are walking or running but aren’t gaining any distance, you’re stuck. One step forward, two slides back. “Wait, I can’t do it!” I screamed. Tears stung my eyes. I was ready to throw in the towel and head back home to the warmth of our couch by the front window and watch the other kids try to make it up. There was no way we’d make it up to the top of the hill in time to catch the bus.

“Yes, you can do it.” my brother encouraged. “See that last set of mailboxes at the top?” He pointed with his entire right mitten. He let out a deep breath, vapors rose into the air like a fog. “All we have to do is make it there and the bus will see us and wait for us to walk up the rest of the way.”

I squinted up at the last set of mailboxes. “Okay.” I whimpered.

“Here, take my hand,” he offered. I grabbed his mitten, or maybe he grabbed my wrist, but either way, we slowly embarked towards the top, together. I huffed and puffed with all my might. This was the Mount Everest of my childhood. Together we clambered and scrambled up to the bus stop. I think my brother even let out a chuckle at the absurdity of it all. Finally, we made it to the last set of mailboxes. We were safe. The bus wouldn’t fly past the stop unable to see us, as we flailed our arms and shouted. I let out a sigh of relief that we’d be seen.  

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It was fitting that as I ascended up our snowy, white neighborhood hill eighteen years later to marry the love of my life, while myself wrapped in white, that I let out a similar sigh of relief. The Mount Everest of My Childhood had been conquered, again, and for the last time. I was moving out of my parents house, moving out of that neighborhood. Never again would I wake up and look out the bedroom window of my adolescence to see that hill covered in a blissful white blanket of snow.

As the weather begins to turn and the last of the autumn leaves fall, my mind always drifts back to that neighborhood hill of my childhood. Back then, how I hated that climb. Now, thinking about it fills me up with so much nostalgia and joy, I almost want to drive back to the bottom of my old neighborhood hill and hike back up just to relive it again.

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I dedicate this post to my brother, who will forever be my mountain guide and childhood climbing companion. He’s always been there with an encouraging word, attainable goal, or chuckle, when things get tricky. Justin, may we continually reminisce over the fond childhood memories of our family and the snowy days on our Mount Everest.  

 

I’m Still Thankful and I Will Rejoice

I follow @motherhoodthroughletterboards on IG. They post some of the funniest and most relatable quotes from moms.  They always get a laugh or a “Yaaasss,” response out of me. But recently, one quote in particular stuck out to me. So much so, I had to tag some other moms because I knew it would strike a chord with them too. The quote was this, “You don’t always have to enjoy every moment.” After reading this letterboard, I felt such a rush of relief. “Thank God,” I exhaled to myself.

I really despise the guilt that I sometimes feel when I am not enjoying a moment with my kids and I realize it. Mostly, because I know there are some women out there who want to be mothers so badly and I was one of them several years ago. I swore that I would never take for granted the moments I got to have with my kids. I promised myself that I would never complain or grow tired of the day to day. On my knees, as tears streamed down my face, I vowed that if I ever got pregnant, I would always be grateful. However, here I am and I admit it, I have taken for granted moments. I have complained or grown weary of the daily routines, repetitions, and the constant caring for.  Complaints like, “I swear all I do is make them food all day,” or “ I can never get anything done. I just want to do _________!” cross my mind fairly often.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’ve done a lot of reflection regarding the things I am thankful for in my life. And I realize that just because you don’t enjoy every moment of something, does not mean you aren’t grateful for that thing in your life. Just because you aren’t enjoying every moment with your kids, does not mean you aren’t grateful for them. Bottom line, you don’t have to enjoy every moment of something in order to be thankful for it. So I haven’t broken that vow of thankfulness for my kids. Because I truly am thankful for them.

I wrote a story months ago about enjoying the moments with your kids. Even the hard ones. I have since revised my thinking. You don’t need to enjoy every moment. You don’t need to enjoy changing all the poopy diapers. You don’t have to enjoy fixing every meal or have the time of your life every time you play with them. However, you should rejoice in those moments. I feel there is distinct difference here. We can rejoice and we can be thankful in the tough moments of life, but we don’t have to enjoy them.

Motherhood is made up of moments. I still believe this. We count our time in moments as mothers because they come and go quickly. When you get to enjoy that first cup of coffee in the morning before you’re a short-order cook for the better half of the a.m., that’s a moment. When your son says, ”I love you so, so, so much Mama,” in his sweet two-year old native tongue, that’s a moment that’ll melt your heart right down. When the kids play together peacefully and actually practice the language and social skills you’ve worked on with them, that’s a moment. These are good moments and they make up for the ones that are hard.

When my husband and I were trying to conceive and I was on my knees praying that vow of thankfulness, I meant it. I am thankful. I am grateful. I am a human humbled by grace to admit that I don’t always enjoy every part of motherhood. I find relief and peace in this reminder that you don’t have to. I hope you do too.

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Alas, sickness has fallen upon our household this past week or so. An uninvited, nasty virus has attacked our heads, eyes, throats, and noses. It has shot down all our defenses and my will to shower. I am the only member of our family whose eyes have remained unscathed with no infection. My throat is sore, my head hurts, and my nose is stuffy.  But my eyes are clear. I’ve been washing my hands obsessively. My hands are dry, cracked and bleeding. I have a cut on my right knuckle that will not heal up because each time I make a fist or use my hand in some way, the cut splits back open. I’ve changed out pillow cases, blankets, and towels religiously. But who wants to bet a million dollars I’ll be sporting the Quasimodo look by Thanksgiving day? Am I enjoying this moment of sickness among our family? Hard no. Am I rejoicing in it? Trying. I am rejoicing in the fact that doctors are a phone call or 10 minute drive away.  I am rejoicing because I can order my groceries online. I am rejoicing in the cuddles, all-day pajamas, and movie watching. I am rejoicing that we can afford any kind of medicine we might need.  I am thankful that even though the seasons of fall and winter are always tough on us healthwise, we’ve got everything we need to help get us through. I am not enjoying the moments we’ve had this past week being sick, but I am trying to rejoice in them.

This is extremely difficult. As I am writing this, I have actually been banished to our bedroom. My husband sensed my foul mood when he came home from work and insisted that I take a break. I would have left to go to a coffee shop and write, but I just don’t feel up to it. So here I am sitting in my freshly changed bed, applying hand cream to my old lady hands, and nursing my raw throat with hot tea. A mountain of laundry is attempting to shove me off the bed, but I refuse to let it. I am going to finish writing this entry and try to rejoice in the moment. My husband said that I seem more worried that I will get the eye infection over anything else. He is right on some level. Of course I don’t want my kids to suffer or be sick. But they’ve already had it or do have it and I don’t. I really don’t want the eye thing. It just makes it that much harder to take care of everybody else. That’s the honest truth. My husband and I have to take care of everyone no matter what happens. It is very hard to rejoice when you and your family are sick.

As we head into the holiday season, I’m going to hold on to this idea of rejoicing in all circumstances. While I absolutely love the letter board quote about not having to enjoy every moment, I feel like it led me to a greater mantra (you know how I love mantras)  that’s been placed on my heart and that is simply to: rejoice. I will rejoice in the unseen work that is being done. I will rejoice in the Father who cares for us so. I will rejoice that my family is altogether. We may be sick, but we are together.

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So as you reflect on what you’re thankful for, take heart. Let go of the guilt and know that you are thankful, you are grateful, you are a great mom, who enjoys the lovely, sweet, funny moments with your kids. Rejoice. Rejoice that you are so greatly needed and loved.

 

Rejoice in the Lord always.

I will say it again: Rejoice! – Philippians 4:4

 

Did Johnny Really Just Say the F-word?

So last weekend, we were pretty certain that our two-year-old son said the word, “f***.” My husband and I weren’t positive if that’s exactly what he was saying at first. He said it a few times in the car on the way to our daughter’s birthday party at The Horse Farm. We brushed it off as a possible misunderstanding of him saying something else, even though he speaks pretty clearly for his age. It could have easily been another word though like, “truck, shark, farm, or fork.” At least, that’s I what I told myself.

However, the next day, he got his foot caught in his chair at the kitchen table and clear as day, “fuck!” was proclaimed out of his sweet little mouth. My husband’s widened eyes met mine, and our jaws dropped.  There was no denying that’s what he said and it was even in the correct context. I hate to admit this, but I am fairly certain he learned this from me…

I used to never swear. I would actually get mad at my college boyfriend when he would swear. I hated it. However, I’ve noticed an uptick in swear words spewing out of my mouth since having kids. Even more so since having two kids. I mean let’s face it, raising little humans is hard. Frustrations mount up daily and if not taken care of, in my case, they volcano out in varying forms of profanity. Surprisingly, my five-year-old daughter has never sworn, not once. But my son seems to pick up on much more, he repeats everything. He is at that age where he is half parrot, half monkey.

The scene from Meet the Parents keeps playing in my mind when the little boy repeats, “ass-hole.” Great going Ben Stiller.  But it happens, I know that. I just never thought my two-year-old kid would be saying the “f word.” In a way, it’s funny, like a story you tell when your kid is older, “Do you remember when Johnny swore for the first time?”  But in another way, I feel so saddened by this.

Let’s call it a wake up call. What I say and do, my kids pick up on. Obvious right? Well, not totally obvious, apparently. I have quite a sailor mouth when I’m alone. I guess though, I am not really alone when I am home with my two kids am I? I have a feeling that they pick up on so much more than I realize… That scares the bleep out of me.

The other day, I spilt my iced caramel macchiato all over our kitchen floor. I almost cried actual tears. I was so looking forward to that latte and it was expensive! Plus now, I had to clean up another mess. So completely silly to be upset over something like that I know, but I was.  My daughter was coloring at the kitchen table when it happened and noticed how upset I was. She offered encouragement and advice. “It’s okay mom, you can make coffee here at home.” She showed empathy. “I’m sorry that happened mom and that you are sad.” For this I am extremely proud of her. At least I am doing some things right. I am also glad I didn’t throw a two-year-old tantrum in front of her. Although, believe me, I wanted to. I didn’t swear either (out loud anyway) which again, I wanted to.

There must have been a time though (Honestly, times. Probably multiple times.), where I did swear out loud and it was heard by little ears. It was digested and stored in his memory (please be short-term) only to be retrieved at a later time and shared randomly during a family car ride.

What I say and do now significantly impacts my kids. If I ever want to feel like I’m a superstar being pursued by the paparazzi, I just take a look at my kids. I’ve got a couple of A-game stalkers with stealth observation skills right at my side. They remember things I say and do. Expect when I ask them to clean up…they don’t seem to hear or remember that.

It’s okay for my kids to see me frustrated or even angry about something. This is an emotion we all experience.  But, how I handle myself in those instances is so incredibly important. Let’s just say I’m working on it.

This past week I have been more conscious about what I say in general but mostly when I’m around the kids. There was that incident where my son shoved a full-sized towel in the bathtub full of water as I was getting him out. There was also the glow stick leakage event in my daughter’s bed. Both times, in my mind I thought, “I can’t believe you shoved the f-wording towel in the bathtub and I have to use about four dry towels to clean up the wet walls and door after bathtime.”  Or, “I saw this f-wording glow stick on the chair by your bed before I went to put your brother to sleep, I knew I should have put it away.”

The positive thing was I didn’t say anything inappropriate outloud. Was I visibly upset, you bet. But I held it together. A lot of it seems to be perspective for me. Things aren’t as big of a deal as I make them out to be.

The day before last, I pulled out our little potty for John to try and peak his curiosity a bit. He started sitting on it with his clothes on, asking questions etc. He then noted there was not water inside. “Nope buddy, no water in this potty.” I walked away for a few minutes and came back to John elbow deep in the actual toilet swishing the water around with his hand.  “Oh no John! We don’t put our hands in the toilet water, yucky!” We quickly and thoroughly washed his hands. Then Hadley and I burst out laughing. I could have easily gotten upset about this, but instead I approached the situation with humor and made an effort to understand my son’s curiosity. It actually was truly hilarious to see him swirling his hand around in the bowl. Later that night, Hadley told me that was her favorite part of the day and I had to agree.

I am happy to report, John has not said the “f-word,” again since last weekend. Maybe it was just a fluke… We shall see. Whatever the case may be, my goal going forward will be to try and look at these incidents through the perspective of my kids and with a little bit of humor. Am I going to get mad sometimes, of course. But taking a step back to look at the bigger picture, will help things not to seem so terrible and knock me down a few notches on the cussing scale.

 

 

Photo credit: John Stivers

Love at First Sight and Rendered Speechless

My Dear Hadley Girl,

I remember when they laid you on my chest for the first time and your innocent eyes looked up at me. We were still in the operating room. I felt numb from the neck down. Despite the condition my body was in there on the flat, sterile operating table, I had to see you. After all, you had been growing inside my body for the last nine months. I had felt your kicks, hiccups, and heard your heartbeat. We had waited for what felt like so long to even conceive you. You were finally here. You had breathed your first breath and cried your first tears.  So I lifted my heavy head as much as I could and strained my neck to keep my eyes fixated on you. It was all I could do to whisper, “Hi.”

“Hi, baby girl. Hi, Hadley. It’s me, mama. Hi.” I whispered over and over again. It was love at first sight and I was rendered speechless. Truly.

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My first day back at work after being home with you for 4 months, was one of the hardest days of my life. I remember I rushed home that afternoon, dropped my bags in the entryway, quickly washed my hands, and reached out for you. I put you to my breast and you drank yourself to sleep. I could finally breathe. My heart shifted back into place.  My shoulders melted down and my body sunk into that living room couch.

That couch was the place where I daydreamed what you might look like before you were born, as I felt you sharpen your kickboxing skills inside my uterus. That couch was the place where we had spent hours when you were a newborn, nursing, napping, and cuddling. There on the couch, was where you and I had slowly started to learn about one another. Together, we cried, smiled, giggled and cooed amongst the pillows and cushions. That couch was home and my heart was there with you. My heart is always there with you.

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Tomorrow, it’s your birthday and you are five years old. Looking back at all the pictures and videos of you on my phone, I feel like I hardly remember that baby. You have changed so much and I get the pure joy of seeing you everyday, but fail to realize how much you are indeed growing. You’re taller. You’re braver. You’re cleverer and funnier. You grow more complex and are filled with intricate detail only the Father could have designed. I don’t always know what you need or what you are thinking now. You can choose to hold your feelings inside or burst out with emotion. Sometimes when I look at you, I can still see your baby face, especially when you are sleeping.

You love to play. This sounds silly, of course a 5-year-old loves to play. But really, you love it. One weekend, your dad and I decided we wanted to spend some special time with you, just the three of us. We asked you what you wanted to do or if there was anywhere you wanted to go, and you requested, “I want to come home and play Legos. I want to build dinosaur cages  with you mommy and daddy. “ At the end of last school year before summer began, your preschool teacher asked you what you were looking forward to most for summer and you said, “I just want to stay at home and play and do nothing all day.” Horses, My Little Ponies, Calico Critters, doctor or veterinarian, restaurant, and dress-up or imaginary play, are just a few of your favorites. That doesn’t even include cars, trains, dinosaurs, or drawing pictures for your favorite people.

You thrive on meaningful time spent with the people that you love. You are not afraid to say hello to new people or ask someone to play.

Witnessing you make it all the way across the monkey bars for the first time all by yourself was unimaginable joy. I couldn’t help but cheer loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear. You mastered riding your bike on two wheels this past year too. You tackle a new goal with fierceness, but it has to be when you are ready and not a moment sooner.

You’re the type of girl who loves to run until you’re breathless, kick the ball as hard as you can, and lay on the ground just to gaze up at the sky. Your heart and mind are filled with wonder. You jump up and down with excitement for so many things. It’s as if you are about to take flight among the birds in the sky. You’d probably love that.

Spaghetti without the spaghetti sauce, pizza without the pizza sauce, only the small oranges that you peel, not the big ones… and always water, never milk or juice. You know what you like and what you don’t.

We sometimes don’t get along. You get upset easily. You stomp to your room, slam the door, yell, throw toys, and just want to be left alone. Minutes later, you want your blankies and are typically ready to hug it out and debrief. You can be moody, picky, and kind of bossy. But you are also thoughtful, helpful, eager, and creative. You’re a friend when it counts and show empathy for others. I am so proud of the girl you are growing up to be.

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We have a newer couch now that we got a couple years ago. We needed a sleeker one to fit a smaller space. But it is still the place where we talk, snuggle and get to know one another. Now, it has crumbs in every nook and cranny. It’s been barfed on, peed on, and spilled on. The cushions are starting to get lumpy and saggy from all the jumping, fort building, and Disney/Pixar movie watching. It’s still our place though where we cuddle when you are feeling sick or when you get hurt. It’s the place where we read stories, tell jokes, or don’t have to say anything at all. It’s the first place you go when you wake up in the morning. Armed with your stuffed animal entourage, three to four blankies, and your water bottle, you settle in at your favorite spot on the couch. At each morning’s first sight, your bed head hair, rosy cheeks, and sleepy smile greet me and I’m in love. I manage to utter a, “Good morning,”  as I’m rendered speechless still.

Love you H. Happy Birthday!

Love, Mom

My Fashionista

“Had, this one is pretty,” I suggest as I lay down a red dress with a pink and navy bow print down on her bed.

“Oooh, yeah that’s a good one. And it’s red!” Hadley declares. For a few more minutes my daughter and I comb through her closet and dresser drawers for all clothing items and accessories red. Tomorrow was red day at preschool and we had to look the part. I’m trying a new thing this school year where we pick out her clothes the night before rather than in the morning. So far, we are three days in and it’s working. Sure beats the frantic dig through the clean laundry pile on our bed, the quick grab of whatever is on top of the stack in her dresser drawer, or the last minute wardrobe change Hadley decides is absolutely necessary three minutes before it’s time to leave.

“I want to wear the red dress with the red skirt like this.” Hadley drapes the dress over herself and then lays the skirt on top, peeking down at the combination.  She bounces a little on her toes with excitement. The skirt is a darker crimson red and has tulle underneath for some extra volume. The dress is a bright tomato red and a thicker cotton material.

I cringed inside. That’s not going to look good. She’ll look like the Little Mermaid when she wrapped that boat sail around herself and tied it with a rope. “Oh, wow honey,” I lamented,  “Well, I don’t think that will work.”

“Yes, it will.” She insisted.

“Yeah, um, usually you don’t wear a dress and a skirt at the same time.” I matter-of-factly stated, as if I’m the expert in all things fashion. This advice coming from the mom who is braless in a pit-stained tank top with gray sweatpants. In my defense it was getting close to 7 p.m., bedtime was eminent. I have totally seen a dress and skirt worn at the same time. It sometimes works, but in this case, hard no. She’d look pretty silly.

I’ve always taken pride in how my kids dress, especially with my daughter. From the cute newborn outfits to the matching pajama sets. I love picking out her clothes or outfit for the day. Until fairly recently, I felt like Hadley was pretty nonchalant about what clothes she’d wear. She would let me pick out her clothes or just want to stay in her pajamas all day. When she started to get a little more opinionated about dressing herself, I would offer her a couple of outfit choices to pick from. Now, however, she mostly always likes to pick out her own clothes. From mismatching pajama sets, to brightly- colored clashing tops and pants, she’s always so certain about what she wants to wear.

Somehow I got this idea in my head, that if my kids aren’t dressed a certain way, or polished enough looking, that it will reflect poorly on me. That I would appear as a bad mom. I was worried about her looking silly. I was worried that I might look silly. That she wouldn’t be put together enough. That I wouldn’t be put together enough.

“Mom, that’s what I want to wear. It ‘ll look good,” she reassured me. We hung up the dress and the skirt on the dresser drawer knobs and went about our bedtime routine.

The next morning, the smell of toasted English muffin and sliced oranges filled the house. Blaze and the Monster Machines was playing in background on TV and Legos were scattered across the family room floor. “Okay Hadley timed to get dressed! Come upstairs and get ready!”  I called out, fastening my second earring.

“I’m coming!” she yelled from down below, snapping together the last few pieces of her Lego creation. I walked into her room and my eyes fell upon her red dress and skirt hanging off her dresser. Quickly, I grabbed the skirt and hung it back up in the closet. “I bet she won’t even remember the skirt,” I said to myself as I swiped the dress off the hanger.

“Here you go,” I said handing her the red dress, underwear, and leggings.

“ Mom.” she states, “You forgot the skirt.”

Dang it.

“Oh you’re right I did.” I trudged to her closet and unhooked the skirt with a sigh. I handed it to her and folded my arms, waiting to see how bad it would look. I had expected her to slip the skirt on over her dress, but she slipped it under the dress instead.

“There.” she beamed.

My heart sank. She looked beautiful. Tears stung my eyes and my heart filled with remorse. She sort of swung her hips side to side, letting the red dress effortless fall over the skirt. The skirt gave the dress some volume from underneath and it looked like they were meant to go together all along. I felt so silly. Why had I doubted her? Why had I worried so much about how she would look? Clearly, the amount of pride and joy she felt from picking out this outfit on her own was immeasurable. She had such a vision that I just couldn’t see.

“Hadley, you look beautiful!” I declared. “What a fashionista you are!”

“What’s a fashionista?” she asked with a furrowed brow.

“It’s someone who can put together outfits in ways other people wouldn’t have thought of.” I explained. I went on, “Hadley, I’m sorry I doubted your red outfit choice. I didn’t think the skirt and the dress would look good together, but they do. You were right.”

“Thanks mom, “ she grinned.

When we arrived at preschool later that morning, Hadley bounded with delight toward her classroom. “Oh my what a pretty red dress!” Her teacher proclaimed as Hadley entered in through the door. Hadley stopped for a moment, glancing down to admire her own outfit. She looked back at me with a smile of pure elation.  The amount of pride I felt as I admired my daughter there at the classroom door, far surpassed the gratification that any perfectly planned outfit or carefully thought out wardrobe scheme would have provided.

I am constantly humbled by what my kids can see that I can’t. I sometimes can’t get past what other people might think. But they can. There is something carefree about my kids’ sweet spirits that I hope to glean some perspective from. I’m working on it. For now, I’ll let my little fashionista take the wheel when it comes to her own outfit choices, with some parameters from me of course. I’ll work on letting go of my own insecurities as a mom and hope to realize that how my kids appear does not make the call on whether or not I’m a good mom. It is far more important that their character and the choices that they make as individuals are what I base my success on. That is what my focus should be. Not their color coordinating skills, although, I’ll always be there to give my opinion.  I have also learned, thanks to my fashionista, that a dress and a skirt can be worn together and totally work.