Just take the picture.

About five years ago, my husband gave me a swanky camera for Christmas. 

After opening my gift, I was speechless.

My mind immediately jumped to worrying over the cost of such a gift – a gift with all of the bells and whistles. I knew that he had spent more on me than he would ever expect anyone to spend on him. Or that he would ever spend on himself.

This is his generous heart.

My new camera opened up the world of photography to me. Photography was a fledgling passion of mine, a part time past time that I was beginning to develop a keener interest in  

He, being the supportive and wonderful husband he is, made it a point to encourage my newfound pursuit. It was as much an investment as it was a gift. He was investing in a happy wife who could pursue creative outlets and build her confidence, while also maybe not go crazy in the meantime.

It was a pivotal moment for me. 

(He gave me a way.)

This past Christmas, I gave him an album full of photos from the year gone by. It was wonderful to give him something tangible that was produced by my hobby five years after he gave me a leg up on a new journey in my life. He encouraged an outlet that wasn’t directly related to chasing small children, even though it at times has been almost exclusively used to record those child-related happenings.

I can look back between when I unwrapped that wildly unexpected present and now, and see a pronounced change in my abilities from that first Christmas to this last one. I have much to learn, but I’m further than I would have been without his generosity.

(I found a will.)

Today, I was scrolling through the photo library on our computer. Recently, the computer decided that its memory was too full (the nerve!), so I’ve slowly been deleting unnecessary photos and files off of my computer in an effort to purge. 

Just this morning, I found dozens of videos, and hundreds of photos from a seemingly bygone era in our home.

A time when we just had one child. When the kitchen was still painted yellow, and we didn’t have the white shoe cabinet in the corner of the dining room that smells like cedar. Our son was a chubby-cheeked, floppy-haired chipmunk who kept two fledgling parents on their toes. 

As I thumbed through these photos and videos, some slightly blurry and a bit fuzzy, I realized that I had no immediate recollection of having even taken them.

The video of my son and me in the cozy green chair in the living room, nestled up with a pile of books stacked high. Him laughing as I playfully squeezed the inside of his thigh just above his knee. Him sitting on the back steps in the kitchen, covered head to toe in Crayola markers – I’m still thankful to this day that they were washable, other wise I’m sure he would still be tattooed in ever color on the spectrum  

Videos of my son, turning on the shower head, and drenching himself while naked in the tub, and the look of amused shock on his face. 

Then there were the photos. Pictures upon pictures of yellow haired, tiny children. Afternoons spent at the park or out in the backyard. Afternoons that now seem like a short lifetime ago. 

I looked at that tired mother in some of the photos, I studied myself with a lot less gray in my air, and I was transported back to feeling every ounce of anxiety over whether or not I was doing a good enough job.

Those days at home with two small children that seemed endless and tedious are now just one footnote in the pages of our family’s story. 

The mother in those photos was so tired, so unsure of herself. Today, I wish I could have given her a hug to say thank you

Thank you for taking those photos.

Thank you for not giving up and putting the camera down even when the kids weren’t being cooperative.

Thank you for not closing the camera on your phone just because someone at the park might have been giving you side-eye.

Thank you for ignoring the thousand and one articles on the internet say that you can’t ever fully experience a moment if you have a lens out. 

Thank you for having enough presence of mind, even though your eyes were so heavy with exhaustion that you thought they might fall out, to think to snap a photo of the things I truly want to remember.

Thank you for clicking away even when everyone in the photo had a bad attitude, because you knew you’d get at least one shot where everyone was looking at the camera. 

Photos tell our stories. Photos let us relive our story. Again and again. 

No, it’s not an exact replica of one moment or another, whether they were good or bad, certain or uncertain. And no, not every photo is of a pivotal, life changing moment. 

But a photo in the hands of the heart that’s looking to remember is like hands holding a hidden jewel.

The things we take photos of are assuredly the things we love. The things we seek. The things we want to think about one day, when we’re older and we have forgotten. Or when we are gray, and crows feet branch out around our eyes.

Our photos will only ever be precious to us, like some distinct, bespoke treasure.

So listen, I get it. 

It’s the holiday season.

And if she hasn’t already, your mom or wife or grandmother or girlfriend will soon want you and everyone else to put on an odd, matching sweater.

She’s going to want you to shave, and wear those pants and that tie you never wear. She’s going to give you several options for the color palette that best highlights everyone’s eyes when you could honestly care less.

She’s going to want you to help her dress the kids in stockings and button down shirts that will definitely get messy if they leave them on for more than three seconds. And she is going to want you to load the kids into the car, and drive to the park or the Christmas tree farm or to some photographer’s studio.

Or maybe she’ll just drag you out to the backyard where she has a tripod set up, and she’ll be hurrying everyone up and yelling something about the lighting being perfect right.now.

She’s going to want you to spend half an hour smiling so hard that your cheeks hurt while you have to pretend that the camera isn’t there. She might even threaten you a tiny bit, heck  she might even want you to fake laugh until your sides hurt. One of the kids might cry. She might tell you where she’ll hide someone’s body if you all don’t smile.

She might turn into some unrecognizable scary person in the pursuit of one Christmas card worth shot.

You must actively fight off the instinct to resist her every step of the way. 

I say this, with an urgency and sincerity: the memories of you, on this day, mean more to your mom/wife/grandmother/girlfriend than literally almost anything. 

These photos will warm the nooks of their coffee stained hearts for years and years to come.

Whether they end up in an album or stuck to the fridge with a magnet, on someone’s desk at work or in a pair of hands weathered by time belonging to someone who loves seeing those family shots. These photos now are the treasures for when these moments are long gone. For people who will one day be long gone. 

These photos show that we were here, even if we might have been pissed off at the time because we didn’t want to wear a bowtie.

Not to be crass, because it IS Christmas and all, but you can surely suck it up for a few minutes, buttercup, and you can take the photo. You can be be one to have a gracious attitude so that your children or your siblings and relatives catch on. 

And one day, when times have changed, and you’ve gone the way that we all eventually do, when you’re old and gray, and you’re holding in your hands the faces that smiled long ago, no mater what’s happened in between now and that day to come – you’ll remember that you were there. They were there.

And that you all lived. 

And it will be your hidden treasure. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Moms: you shouldn’t do everything for your children just because its easier.

 

My husband has a gift.

Besides his handsomely rugged smile and trademark “dad voice” that can make little people listen instantly (unlike when mom’s been yelling that “it’s dinnertime” for the last fifteen minutes to no avail), he has one more trick up his cardigan sleeves: his ability to successfully encourage our children to do things for themselves.

When it comes to daily life, even the tiniest every day task can immensely frustrate or prove challenging for our children. Fastening the button on their pants. Fetching a cup of water for themselves. Finding their lost shoe. Remembering to do what few daily chores we give them

I don’t know about you, but when little things like that happen in our home it can easily become an international event. My first reaction as a mother is to quickly intervene and problem solve on behalf of my children.

My husband’s approach is usually different. 

He works his magic and coaxes our children to solve their own problems. He talks them through the process in a bid to see if they can find a reasonable solution independently. He reminds them to finish a set task that is given to them, or to remember the daily behaviors and manners we expect from them. And to make matters even more mysterious, they are actually willing to listen to him!

What sorcery is this??

We can talk about the fact that moms are (usually, but not always) the parents who are inherently programmed to want to meet every.single.one. of their children’s needs on an almost molecular level without it sounding reductive, right?

This isn’t some special skill-set we develop all on our own, either. This is one that nature and biology figures we will be needing post-birth, along with hemorrhoids and thrush apparently.

Since our children spend almost an entire year inside of us developing, moms get a jump on the whole lifetime-of-service-and-hospitality-thing starting when we are hunched over the toilet with morning sickness and indigestion, long before baby is even born. 

We moms are programmed to hear the crying, coughing and sneezing in the middle of the night. Our brains are never turned completely off. That is, unless we are trying to accomplish something that doesn’t directly pertain to our children, like remembering what day it is and our real name. Here’s a hint, it isn’t, “mom!!”

It turns out that since having children, my brain is sometimes about as useful as a pile of soggy spaghetti noodles…unless I need to assemble a sippy cup in record time.

There is scientific proof behind the notion of “mom brain.” It is real

Not only am I programmed with the inescapable urge to meet all of my tiny love demons’ needs, I am also a woman who has ten things on her to do list at any given point during the day.

Stopping suddenly to teach someone the proper way to tie their shoes, sort toys into the correct bins, and scrape bits of food off dinner plates into the trash requires time. And we all know just how much extra time we have as parents, right?

More often than not, I will stop what I’m doing. But it’s to finish putting my children’s toys away for them. To tie their shoes and help them button their pants. It’s to search out that long lost My Little Pony toy from underneath of the sofa. It’s so I can clear their plates for them when they forget. 

Because the quickest way through each obstacle is the one that doesn’t require too much of my patience and sanity. It’s the one that doesn’t require me to teach life lessons when we have somewhere to be in eighteen minutes. 

But…is this behavior on my part really the quickest way through?

Or, am I actually setting my children up with the expectations that someone will always be there to help shoulder their responsibilities and cover for them when they fall short?

Am I crafting a world where my children value my service to them as a mother, so that they in turn develop an deep appreciation for other people serving them throughout their lives, like a server at a restaurant, the cashier at the grocery store or even a friend who helps them when they’re in a bind?

Am I actually being too child-centered to realize that part of being an efficient, dutiful and loving parent is teaching our children that our world does not revolve exclusively around them?

I don’t actually want to answer those questions. I was just asking.

I don’t know about the rest of you reading this post, but the daily challenges of parenting are difficult enough. There is no such thing as having enough patience, because it is constantly siphoned out of you in a steady stream of requests for cartoons and string cheese.

For a long time, I have fallen into the trap of thinking that it was better to resolve an issue quickly, rather than using it as a valuable teaching opportunity that could slowly bear fruit, and change the way my children and I relate to one another.

The gist? I am not their maid. I am not their nanny. I am not their personal chef, their cruise boat entertainment director or their personal sock finder.

Im their mother. And also, as it turns out, I’m a person.

There are many practical and spiritual reasons why we should empower our children to become their own problem solvers.

Here are just a few:

 

1.) You already have a lot on your plate

You already feed, clothe, bathe and tend to your children. You already facilitate their routines and schedules. You already manage their belongings. You already take them to the doctor, get them out the door to school, tend to them when they’re ill and comfort them when they’re upset. 

It sounds like the most basic of truths, but it IS true: momma, you already have a lot on your plate when it comes to taking care of your children. 

Which means that it is totally reasonable to expect that your children can accomplish age appropriate tasks for themselves as they grow.

It’s that simple. 

 

2.) Chores never hurt anyone

I don’t ascribe to the way of thinking that children need to walk fifteen miles uphill in the snow to school in order for them to turn into decent human beings. But chores and hard work actually DO build great character. 

Your children should know the pleasure of a job well done, and sense of pride that comes from accomplishing something on their own. And the best part is that it won’t kill them. Even if they moan and act like it will. When they resist, you know you’re on the right path.

 

3.) Fostering independence builds confidence

Much like potty training, zipping their jackets for the first time, or the moment they realize that they have cleaned their entire room themselves, there is nothing like seeing a child’s face light up when they have accomplished something entirely on their own. 

We can’t expect independent thinking to stem from the schools they attend, the friends they hang out with or to pop up when they finally move out of the nest on their own.

A strong sense of character and identity starts at home. And it can come from encouraging them to problem solve and work dutifully over the course of their entire lifetime. 

 

4.) We are seeing the negative affects of a child-centered culture

Parents today, in my very personal view, are afraid of upsetting their children. They’re afraid of the tantrums. They’re afraid to let them down. They’re afraid to simply say no. 

When we work for our children, instead of positioning ourselves as the guiding parent, we are fostering lifelong view where they subconsciously believe that all of their needs will always be fulfilled exactly how they want them. Where they believe that they will always be happy.

And if they aren’t? Then it must be someone else’s fault. 

Part of life is difficulty, pain and even disillusionment. It is never the job of the parent to be the causes of those things. We are never called to exacerbate or provoke our children.

But it is our job to love our children enough to give them a positive outlook on such things. Part of that is not shielding them from something that is hard simply because it’s hard.

 

5.) You don’t want to raise brats.

So, I know that sounds horrible. And I’m the first person to object to naming children as “a*******” or “brats.” Because children are children. But, really….

I’m not saying that you’re going to destroy your child’s entire life if you find their missing shoes for them. I’m not saying that if you cut the crust off of their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that you’re enabling their privilege. 

But we must correct the heart behind negative behavior as much as we must address the actual behavior.

I want my children to not only become capable people as they grow, but I want them to do it for the right reasons. I want them to have a sense of gratitude for the food on the table, the warm blankets on their beds and the shoes on their feet.

I want them to know that raising a family requires work, even on those lazy days out to the park with a picnic lunch. Every good thing requires the work or sacrifice of someone else. It is never free. Nothing ever just happens.

Encouraging independence in our children, giving them chores and enabling an attitude and cultivating a heart that is helpful and grateful and joyful for all that they have will help them open their eyes to the privileges and blessings that we are afforded in this country. It is teaching them to be aware in this world.

And it all must start in the home.

It is one more successful notch in the calling to send them out as straight arrows, tried and true.

 

Ready to fly. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Waitress: this is why I was alone

My husband walked through the door. Dinner simmered on the stove. Children wailed and argued from the other room. 

I stirred the cooking rice and chicken on the stovetop once more. I folded the dishrag into a neat pile by the sink. And I calmly told my husband that I needed to leave. 

I laid out pajamas on the coffee table, a set for each child. I scooped dinner out into three different bowls, made three different cups of water. 

I grabbed my purse and my keys, blew kisses and closed the door. I contained myself from doing a mad sprint to the car.

I stopped at the supermarket on the way into town to choose a magazine to read while I ate my dinner.

I looked at all of the glossy, colorful magazine covers lining the shelves. Smiling, air-brushed, and seemingly well-rested faces looked back at me. Bidding me to try the sex moves that would change my life and discover the fall fashion or makeup palette to ring in the new season. To try the fat busting moves that would bring forth the abs of steel that my life has been missing – speaking of which, does anyone else notice how magazines that champion for you to get into the “greatest shape of your life!!!11!” never use entertainers who have had three or four kids as their cover models? Get three people cut out of your abdomen, and spend eleven months feeding them from your body while they grind your nipples up like beef in a meat mincer, sister, and then we’ll talk about how you “manage” to keep yourself in shape. 

I grabbed the one with the least annoying celebrity on the cover (Zooey Deschanel, you win this time), and paid for it.

I reached the sushi restaurant, hoping to the gods of dining-in that on a Thursday evening at seven p.m., they would have space for me. Not the sushi bar. Not a freestanding table. A BOOTH. Go big or go home.

The young lady behind the counter looked confused for a moment, her eyes quickly wandering to glance over my shoulder at the no-one coming in the door behind me. Yes, just me, I chirped. Party of one like whoa.

She asked if I wanted just a sushi menu, and guided me to my table, my nest of respite for the next forty minutes. She still seemed unsure as she slipped the menu across the table to me. She pointed out where the pens were to mark my choices on the menu, and informed me that there were more options on the back. 

I’ve been to this place more than a dozen times. 

I sat down in my seat, and looked up only for a brief moment at the no-one across from me. Then I affixed my attention to the menu until my waitress appeared. 

She offered me a drink, and as I ordered, I asked if the restaurant still gave out complimentary salad and soup. When she asked which one I wanted, I told her both, because that really is the only option. 

I handed her my menu, and she seemed surprised that I was ready so quickly. But such is the luxury of only ordering for one. I could tell you what I’d order at almost any place in town in a snap because I spend my days eating cereal for lunch while dreaming of food that I don’t have to make myself.

As she retreated to fetch my drink, I began to peel through the magazine pages. Such colors. So many young women with bright eyes, no bags or circles. And so much jumping in the air and wind tussled hair all for the sake of tampon advertisements.

I felt so silly. 

The waitress returned with my drink, and looked confused by my magazine. I told her thanks, and returned to reading. 

Such began this majestic dance for the remainder of the evening; the waitress remaining polite and efficient, but also seemed unsure of what to do with the lady with no makeup on, in a booth by herself, shoving food into her mouth like it was going out of style, reading from the pages of a Cosmo magazine that was clearly meant for people ten years younger than her. 

I silently remembered how I would have never, ever gone to dinner by myself in a sit down restaurant before I had children. And even after. 

Escaping for an evening from the house used to mean that I needed to have a friend waiting for me somewhere. I needed a plan.

Now, escape just means escape. And sometimes, you might have the chance to arrange for all of that socializing stuff, while other times you simply don’t.

You grab what you can and run from the house like it’s actually on fire, when really, it’s full of sick children, dogs who chew everyone’s shoes and a mound of laundry larger than the Eiffel Tower.

You leave everything behind, and get the hell out while you can and you don’t stop to ask such frivolous questions like, “who am I even going to hang out with??”.

You do what needs to be done to survive. 

I am to the point in my life where sitting alone in a booth, stuffing salad with ginger dressing in my mouth while my phone is set on silent, with magazine siting open in front of me sounds like just as much of an accomplishment as a night spent out in the town with five of my closest friends. 

Mothers become this paradox after they spend years raising their brood.

We feel alone even when surrounded by an army of tiny people who never give us a moment’s peace. And, sometimes, when we actually are alone, we feel complete. 

I had a date with myself the other night.

I got to know myself a bit more.

There isn’t always a chance for that when spouses and children and mutt dogs come into the picture. Not often since the walls of my home started to feel like they were going to burst apart at the seams, and since children started chasing me down to remind me every fifty-three seconds about the book fair at school this week.

It’s easy to see why the chance to continue your relationship with yourself is the first thing to go. It’s the most negotiable, the easiest to suppress. You learn to tell yourself no more than you tell your children no.

sushi-plate

Which is why, sometimes, you need to take yourself on a date.

And the good thing about yourself is that you’re comfortable with pauses and brief silences in the conversation. You’re okay to rest that internal monologue of all of the things you have to do in a bid for sweet silence. You just ply yourself with rolls of sushi and Pepsi until you’re ready to talk again. 

Myself and I laughed and laughed at the pages of that magazine. How nineteen year old me would have hung on every word about how to give him the night of his life. I would have perused every shelf in the cosmetics section at Wal-Mart, looking for the perfect fall blush to match my skin tone. 

I don’t even know where I put that magazine after I got home. But I did return to one child throwing up, and the dog working her way through the heel of my shoe.

It was brief, so very brief. But I had a great time. 

I’m thinking we might have to do this again.