Category Archives: Parenting

Desperate for Grace

There are probably more than a few life lessons I’ve learned from being a parent, one of the most important obviously being how to eat a doughnut so the kids don’t catch me.

(The secret is you can’t hide when you eat one. It’s like they can sense sneakiness. I think it’s related to the fact that I can announce with gusto and clapping and eye contact, “Time to clean your room!” and they one hundred percent don’t hear me, but if I communicate to my husband with sign language and lip reading and the occasional mime, “I’m going to go take a bubble bath,” Bean is all like, “BUBBLE BATH?! I WANT TO COME!”

Life Lesson: Dance like no one is watching, and also eat a doughnut like you don’t mind sharing.)

But then this whole parenting thing catches me by surprise, somewhere in between hiding the chocolate covered cherries (they were in my Christmas stocking, okay?) and willingly saving the last two Reese’s cups (I MEAN…organically grown apples?) for my little buggers.

It’s surprising because I mean, who shares Reese’s cups?

But it’s also surprising because, all of a sudden, I am pressed against the earth, crushed by the sheer weight of raising this young man and young lady, crippled into stillness by the magnitude of what it all must mean to be their mother. I build them with my trembling hands and uncertain words, hoping they will become Kind and Compassionate and Thankful, Well-Rounded and Well-Educated and Well Aware.

But this is what you miss: I fall short, daily and knowingly, filling in the cracks with all good things from teachers, friends, and fellow parents, my palms poised and ready to smooth in the rough spots whispering “grace” like a prayer.

photo 2I am tougher on my Bug than anyone else. And I grow tougher still with every inch notched higher on his doorframe. His size and his wisdom and his intelligence fool me, convincing me he is very nearly grown, and should certainly start acting like it. I find myself panicking, watching the clock and the days crossed off on calendars, worried and aware my time to teach him is short, that he is already halfway out the door toward adulthood. I am running out of time, and I know this, I know this, so I speak louder and faster, and I push harder and firmer, and maybe one day all the tears and tired muscles will be worth it.

But the thing is, at nine (and a half) years old, this boy is already better than I’ll ever be. He is witty and quick, comfortable in his own skin and spiky hair. He loves without apology and laughs without reserve. He has baby cheeks and bruised shins, every inch of his body moving a hundred miles an hour.

I cannot fail at this. And knowing I do anyway? It paralyzes me.

But then he sleeps, cocooned beneath the blankets and twisted around action figures, and I sneak in to kiss him goodnight. I hold his hands tucked under his pillow, and in his sleep he holds mine back. I run my fingers along his lashes, his nose, his jaw, and that is when I feel it. Somewhere inside my nine-year-old is a man with a strong chin and stronger convictions, and I feel it in his bones and in his grip.

I have failed. I do fail. I will fail.

photo 1My daughter is full of beauty and spunk. I often wonder if these two things together won’t make her too terribly difficult on the world. And I worry this world might break her of it. So instead, I try to teach her when to yield and when to stand her ground, but the balance is fragile and to her everything on earth is a challenge to be won.

But where she is good at fighting for her way, she is even better at figuring out when she was wrong. She will run away and pout, shutting me out while she mourns. Sometimes I let her go, less because I am honoring her decision and more because my lack of attention is a kind of punishment in itself.

But other times and not often enough, I get it right. Those times I scoop her up and hold her, letting her know in language she understands how life can be frustrating and difficult, but I am constant. Those are the moments it won’t take long for her small, sweet voice to say, “I’m sorry, Mama, do you forgive me?”

The answer is of course, baby, always of course, because this little spitfire has shown me what it means to swallow pride and let loose faith, and just like that my anger or annoyance or sense of Manners or Rules or Appropriate Behavior is insignificant in the face of such great grace.

And it’s the thing for which I am most desperate in this calling of mine. It is grace spun into a silk fine and feather-light covering over the multitude of my sins. And even though I do not parent them perfectly, oh, how I love them fiercely, and the grace my children wear so well is eager to stretch across that gap.

And at the end of the day, it is grace that wins us all.

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A Letter For My Children

To my Bug and Bean, my boy and my girl, the pieces of me that make up my heart:

Bug and Bean

What a wonder you both are. I think that often, and I remember to tell you that sometimes, but writing that down means you will one day read it, and that you will know.

Some days I am conscious about this thing called parenthood. I am fully alive to it, and fully present. I remember that you are worth it, that I will never get my fill of you.

And some days I would much rather hide in the pantry and eat all the chocolate and let you two figure it out on your own if it means I never have to vacuum the carpet again.

For those days I am sorry.

I’m sorry for the times I make the world feel more frightening than beautiful, that curiosity can be dangerous when it leads you away from me. It is your job to wonder, and mine to be diligent. So let your feet wander, and I’ll count your steps for you. Find the awe in all things, and invite others to search with you. Look closely and for the big picture. Discover what’s inside or underneath or above or below. While you marvel at the world, I will marvel at you.

I’m sorry when I use all the wrong words to describe you. You are not noisy, you are filled to bursting with life. You are not incessant, you are interesting, and interested. You are not bossy, you are a leader, natural and visionary. You are pieces of me, and of your father, and of all the wonderful people who came before you, traits that have not yet been dulled by growing up or watered down by fitting in, strands woven together to make something — someones — completely different and brand new. You are intricate.

I’m sorry for the times I make you feel small and forgettable, brushed aside or less than. It’s a feeling that sinks in your stomach and can take root in your soul. It’s a sucky feeling to have, and I’m sorry when I make you feel it. But we are small and forgettable in this great, big world that is also small and forgettable in this great, big universe, and knowing that — instead of feeling it — puts things in perspective. I’m sorry when I forget that perspective and make a big deal over of the juice you spilled or the plate you broke.

I’m sorry when I think doing the dishes is more important than having a tea party or playing basketball in the driveway. I’m sorry when I place you somewhere on my list of priorities, of Things to Do, like parenting is a set of boxes to check off. I’m sorry when I forget that parenting is an animal cracker safari and not the crumbs left on the floor; that it’s a dozen chalk-drawn hopscotches on the sidewalk and not the colored dust they leave on your new dress; that it’s a few extra chapters even though you can read perfectly on your own and not the minutes stretching past bedtime.

I’m sorry when I expect so much more of you than I should. I’m sorry when I forget you aren’t yet a man, and that I am only partly responsible for what kind of man you should be. I’m sorry when I make you feel like you should be so much more grown up than you really are. I know that day will be here too soon and, in spite of my meddling, will be greater than I could ever have intended.

I’m sorry when I am not the best role model you see. I’m sorry when I buy the lies that I am not beautiful, that I was not created intricately and with purpose. I’m sorry when I cringe at my reflection or frown at my waist, forgetting you are watching, forgetting that you look more like me than anyone else in the world. I teach you to be kind to everyone but sometimes forget that includes our Selves.

I will always love you thoroughly, even if it is imperfectly. Even when my heart wants to explode just from the sight of you sleeping, I can’t love you the way you were created to be loved.

But I promise to point you to the One who does.

Love,

Your so, so, so blessed mom.

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Will Work for Money

So it looks like my stint as Trophy Wife may be coming to close. Bean is now three years old, and potty-trained, and sweetly (if not psychotically) SUPER attached to me. Plus, she hasn’t been getting the enrichment of being in preschool with other kids and child development certified grown-ups. (Read: she is clingy.)

We’re BFFs. We have been for three years. Half the things out of her mouth are verbatim quotes of mine. (She has been known to tell her brother to, “use your words!”)

No, I do declare preschool shall do my little copycat good.

And now that I’m coming to terms with re-entering the work force (Read: you mean I’m mandated an entire hour for lunch? Can I eat by myself? Do I have to cut up anyone else’s food? Will my food still be hot/cold/the proper temperature?), I’ve been polishing up the ol’ résumé. And the three-year gap on it is mildly threatening. I’d like to just paste pictures of my kids under Work Experience, but I’m not sure how professional that will be. Maybe if I use pictures from our Sears Portrait Studio session.

So what would a Stay-At-Home Mom résumé look like? SO GLAD YOU ASKED.

Stay-at-Home Mom, Buttram Residence, May 2010-present
• Answered on average 10,000 questions per day.
• Gained forty pounds in months leading up to employment in order to grow a small human.
• Utilized my mathematical knowledge to balance personal bank accounts, allotting revenue for Educational Books and Toys, Healthy Snacks, and After-School Activities, while enforcing budget cuts on Fast Food.
• Performed regularly the ability to lift 20+ pounds on a daily (hourly) basis, sometimes while it’s kicking and screaming.
• Practiced significant life skills on a regular basis such as patience while teaching how to not pee in your pants, grace during trips to the grocery store with two cranky children, and steadfastness when being asked a minimum of twelve times for candy ten minutes before dinner is ready.
• Utilized my ability to think creatively by completing numerous puzzles, Lego kits and Transformers (I hate those things).
• Ensured availability around the clock, including during shower times, lunch breaks, in the middle of the night, and when I just sat down with a cup of coffee and a book.
• Utilized my ability to multi-task while preparing meals, straightening up the work environment, assisting with after-hours educational endeavors, and placating a needy toddler.
• Provided safe and timely transportation to and from school, church, and all other numerous sports-and-leisure activities.
• Managed all parties’ divergent schedules, ensuring all doctors’ appointments, play dates, sports games, and church functions were well-attended.
• Enforced the Rules of Arguing between heated conflicting parties while remaining objective, arbitrating justice and ensuring sensible resolutions.
• Utilized my organizational and time-management skills to ensure all parties maintain a balanced and stimulating schedule, diet, and intellect.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, right? That is a pretty impressive list, if I don’t say so myself. (I do. I do say so.) Not to mention how demanding our employers (kids) can totally be (YES, your grilled cheese is ALMOST READY). They’re also much grosser than America’s typical employers I hope (PLEASE FIND A TISSUE, I DON’T NEED TO SEE YOUR BOOGER).

And while they are painfully cute and sweet and surprising and heartbreaking, they don’t pay very well (unless you count sticky kisses, which are completely unbankable. Believe me, I’ve tried).

And I can honestly say I’ve never had to wipe a co-worker’s bottom. (PROMISE.)

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The Bean Sprouts

She is curled against my shoulder, tucked in the very same spot so many times, sometimes for minutes, sometimes half the night, this shoulder belonging to her for just three years now, and it seems impossible to fit the largeness of this feeling inside a time so small.

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I should know by now, honestly, even if I cannot fully understand it, that time is a magic trick, an optical illusion, relentless and perfect at catching me by surprise. I gasp and marvel and wish I had paid better attention, because the infant who once spanned the length of my forearm is a little girl now who dances and somersaults and tells me when she is happy or sad and carefully holds her pinky down with her thumb announcing, “Me too three now!”

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She is startling and enthralling, in ways I never even imagined when I held her for the first time. There is something in her that captivates, a quiet, subtle something that surfaces as she is growing. There are moments when I can’t take my eyes off her and I find myself staring, unwilling to miss even a breath.

She is curious and headstrong, with an all-too familiar stubborn streak woven wide within her. She is kind and deliberate, silly and affectionate, often bossy but always full of grace. She is an extension of myself, never more than a shadow’s length away, and I am all the more grateful for it.

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You could say that I am weathered now; I have learned how quickly the months and years dart past. I look away for just a second to notice the smoke and mirrors and when I remember where to focus the newborn I was holding against my shoulder fits much more snugly, long legs wrapped clear around my waist; and we are hip-to-hip before we are eye-to-eye and I cannot move for fear of shattering.

I dare not blink, lest something like this should happen:

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Happiest of threes, my bean sprout. You are lovelier every day.

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I Am Not Okay

My third grader came home from school Monday afternoon and told me all about their school-shooting drill they had that morning, how they’ve been prepared with special hiding spots, how he was chosen to be in the group that gets to climb to the top of tall shelves, how the bell will ring when they are in Lockdown Mode, how to survive something that has knocked this country to its knees.

I wept. Or I should say, I weep. Because I haven’t quite stopped since Friday.

When he showed me how they were taught to hide in bathroom stalls, curled into tight, tiny balls on top of toilets, a fury boiled within me. The tears I cried then were hot and red, righteous in their anger.

I am not okay.

I sift through the senseless and scavenge for meaning, for justice, for change. I listen as my heart beats a subtle unsteadiness as we near the school doors where I drop my son off and away and into the world ripe with heroes and villains, with uncertainty. I fight the urge to stay put just outside those doors, my arms poised open and ready to grab him back, molding him into my chest where it is safe, where I am not blood and bone and breakable but steel and unyielding, where no one will claim him from me.

My daughter twirls clumsy pirouettes in her favorite skirt, and the beauty of it, of her innocence shatters me. The brittleness breaks through and I am sobbing at the sight. Her cheeks are pink and feather soft, her hands warm and sticky. I tuck her under my chin for as long as she will let me, spreading kisses all over until her skin smells like my breath. I don’t care that she has crumbled pretzels in my bed or trailed crackers up the stairs. She is vivid and alive and that is enough.

I am not okay.

My children, with tiny nail polish-chipped fingers and growing feet and apple-scented faces tasting of caramel kisses, are subject to the brokenness and the meanness of this world. And with that I am not okay.

I wonder how this could happen, how black this world can be, and then my hatred and my bitterness grow fierce, my judgment unwavering, my wrath filled with poison, and that is when suddenly I know. I crawl through the tunnels of my own darkness and realize the only thing that tempers it is love.

I am not okay.

In the lulls of constant chatter, at stop lights, when they wake up, when I tuck them in, when I make them grilled cheese sandwiches and ignore the pile of vegetables untouched on their plates, when I read their favorite story though it’s thirty pages long and well past their bedtime, with every fresh box of new crayons, in every squeeze and kiss and touch and fingers tickling backs of knees and in between ribs, I love them. I tell them over and over and in every which way, I hold them until they squirm, I whisper it when they’re sleeping because I never want them not to know.

I try to make that love louder than the noise that threatens to drown it out, the noise that circles the earth and prowls outside their windows and roars inside my own temper.

If I love louder, then maybe it will be okay.

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Knowing Love

My kids know I love them, right? Internet strangers spending five seconds on this here blog know I love my kids. It’s not a secret.

Lately my sweet two-year-old Bean has begun to really understand what those words mean when we say I Love You.

It’s beyond understanding what red and bwue mean, or that a circle is round and squares have pointy edges; that cows moo and pees, daddy? will get her almost anything.

She knows these words when she first wakes up and when we tuck her in at night. She knows they are not just for her but for her brother and for mom and dad. She knows they taste and feel good, often wrapped around a hug and kisses.

And she knows that when she says them back, it makes me melt.

To this young but growing mind, the words I Love You are moving past something to say. They are building into something bigger than ritual, larger than necessity. They are words she is learning to attach to that swollen feeling in her chest when completely encompassed by her daddy’s arms, when resting against her mama’s shoulder, when clinging to big brother’s back.

They are words followed by affection given freely and without hesitation by a little girl with exaggerated kisses and wriggling hugs.

And watching as she shifts from knowing love to knowing love is breathtaking. And all I can do is stare speechless and try not to crumble when she wraps her arms around my knees and declares, Wuff you, mom.

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I Harbor the Ugly

Yesterday was one of those days.

The kind of day you wish you could just start over. Start from scratch.

I mean, I knew things were beginning to get out of hand when I started talking about The Starving Kids in Africa! to prove a point about whining over playing video games.

Those days are rough. And unfortunately, they come around too often.

By mid-morning, I was wondering just how much more…accomplished, I guess would be the word…my life might be once both kids are grown and gone. Or at least old enough to both be in school all day long.

I might actually get back into shape. I might actually write a novel. I might be able to keep the house clean for longer than 14.73 seconds. I might be able to take a shower every day. The possibilities are endless!

And then I’m yanked out of that daydream by an eight-year-old asking for the infinitieth time if he can turn on the television even though I JUST said, “Not until your room is clean”, or a two-year-old pitching a full-blown tantrum because I won’t let her play with safety pins.

But here’s my secret: though I raise my voice and huff in frustration, I am silently glad.

Glad because I’ve been crouching in my darkness, waiting for their behavior to cross into “undesirable” so I can dole out punishments with justification. I’ve been feeling small and petty and bitter, and finally, I have a reason for those feelings to manifest themselves in all their ugliness.

And I harbor the ugly with ease. I nurse it. I let it hide beneath the excuse that we all have those days, I let it grow restless inside the partial truth that they’ve earned the threats and restrictions and harsh words. I let it loose outside the bigger truth that they are small now and learning. Learning from the best that it’s not only okay to feel frustrated and disappointed and angry, but that it is okay to express these things with smallness, pettiness, and bite.

I let the ugly swell bigger than the beautiful, heavy weight of growing this boy and this girl, of witnessing their intelligence and kindness. I let it thicken more solidly than the fragile hearts beating sweetly in their chests. I make it more real than the impossible, short time I have to parent them before they leave me behind in their glorious dust.

Yesterday was one of those days when I was reckless with the gift of motherhood.

But I am lucky that I can do it all over today with two who really do make it easy.

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The Smallest Infinite

She woke up crying, but I stalled. The chapter I was reading had not ended, and besides, her nap had not been quite as long as they normally are. (And the chapter was really good.)

So I waited for her to settle back in to sleep.

But she insisted, her cries growing more anxious (and distracting), and I couldn’t finish the chapter anyway; and besides, the story would be there still tonight, and she was quickly moving from impatient to indignant.

So I crashed into her room, all smiles and songs, hoping to cheer her up and make her forget all about my most recent neglect.

With a scoop and sway, I cradled her, offering a snack or some juice or a toy to play with, a trade-off for absent mothering.

But all she wanted was me.

So I listened (this time) and let her snuggle against my chest, felt her press her cheek into my shoulder. Her fists squeezed beneath my arms, tucked against my side, and we rocked back and forth to almost-sleep, two pieces fitting neatly together.

I never know how long these moments will last. But I know eventually that they will end altogether.

And with that knowledge, I refuse to watch the clock tick from 4:24 to 4:57, refuse to remember that I should be thinking of what to cook for dinner, but before that, I should run to the grocery store, but before that I should dry the load of wet towels in the washer, but before that it’s almost 5 o’clock and I haven’t even made the bed.

So I refuse and remain in the moment, all the while knowing that before I can cook dinner and shop for groceries and dry wet towels and make the bed, she will grow restless. My shoulder will grow too sharp, her cheek too warm, her body too still. She will have rested, and she will want to spend that energy somewhere other than curled like a cat above my breastbone.

But in the time it takes for her to crave that freedom, I will focus on her lashes fluttering against my jaw. I will tap out a silent song with my fingertips along the slope her nose makes, her quiet heartbeat my rhythm. I will listen to her breaths, deep and effortless, in and out without a care.

Strangely enough, though the clock ticks on, this moment we are lying in is timeless.

And for a little while, within this small moment inside of 4:24 and 4:57 on a lazy afternoon, I can pretend that we are infinite.

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There Are No Words

Happy birthday, my magical Beanie-bell.
You have no idea how sweet you make this life.
L o v e ,
Your lucky, lucky mama

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A Glimpse of Legacy

It’s easy to feel forgettable.

And being forgotten is terrifying, isn’t it?

I don’t want to be left off the email list when someone is organizing a play date. I don’t want my friends to wonder what I’ve been up to lately. I don’t want my blog to fall under someone’s “Read When I Have Nothing Else To Do & I’ve Already Watched All the Reruns of Law & Order: SVU on TBS” folder. I don’t want to be written out of my parents’ wills. (Just kidding, Dad.)

I want to spread my words so they resonate with people, ringing in their ears long after. I want others to remember me, even if they’re just remembering to invite me to the splash pad.

I don’t want to be forgettable; I want to leave a legacy.

My daughter has taken to rocking her dolls and stuffed animals to sleep. Earlier today I caught her doing that to a tower of Legos.

She walks around with a toy cradled in her little arms, gently swaying it back and forth whispering, “Hey, hey, hey, shhhh.”

The comfort she is copying, the softness in her voice, the way she presses her cheek against a pink bunny or multi-colored blocks all remind me of the way I cradle my own children, smoothing down their baby fine hair, nestling them in that sweet, safe spot between my chin and my chest, that spot that tells them they are loved beyond measure, and not just by the arms encircling them.

And as I watched my daughter carefully tuck her stuffed elephant in beneath a tee-shirt-turned-blanket, I caught a glimpse of my legacy.

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