I've always lived with this knowledge that I am flawed.  I hear these phrases in my head,

"You're just like your mom."
"You're too shy."
"You need to listen more."
"Don't speak your mind so much."

Some of the words are true - perhaps all of them are true - but they are not helpful.  I have found them so loud in my head that they completely paralyze me.  And on the really bad days, they generally spiral down to even worse, completely untrue statements of failure, despair and shame.

About a year ago I was so burdened by it all that I decided to go for some counseling.  My mother is a trained counselor and I grew up going to counseling throughout high school.  I know that when it is all more than you can handle, you get help.

I found a great counselor and began a process.  I discovered where those phrases came from - the root of the downward spiral I so often slide down.  It was dramatic and powerful when I decided to stop blaming and pitying and just love myself.

At the same time as the counseling I read an amazing book about self confidence.  At the time, I was so embarrassed to be reading a book about self esteem, that I didn't check it out from the library - I just sat and read it in the corner.  All in one sitting.

As I typed the list in the beginning, I automatically typed the next four phrases.

"Do more."
"Give more, take less."

This is the new end of my spiral.  At first I had to work very purposefully to think those thoughts.  I didn't want to.  Honestly, it was hard.

But, over time I have been able to add even more.  Thoughts I never thought I'd be able to think on my own.

"You are a good friend."
"You encourage others."
"You show love and kindness to those around you, regardless of status."
"You are worthy."

Those words come from God.  Those words are only true because of His work, His sacrifice and His gift.  He is the true transformer of my life.  Without Him I am nothing.


Weekend Rewind: Let Sleeping Babies Lie

Weekend Rewind:
This post was originally written on August 2nd, 2009 by my husband, Matt.  I love to read his perspective on parenting.  He writes so beautifully and expresses things perfectly!

Sometimes I feel like being a dad is more than I can handle. Taking care of the children? That, I can handle. If that were all there was to parenting, my job would be a breeze. But the hard part of parenting is that other half.

Kids aren't just pets needing food, water, a chew toy, and a warm place to sleep. They are little people -- little people that are going to grow up to be big people. And they don't know how to be big people. It is up to Angie and I to teach them that part. The onus of that role can be overwhelming for many reasons.

For starters, sometimes I don't think I know how to be a big person. I stumble my way through my own life wishing I had clear answers to all of life's questions, clear goals with a clear path to attain them... I rarely have any of those things.

Nonetheless, I do my best to teach my girls what I can, inventing the material (and often the teaching methods) as I go. That seemed to work well for the first three or four years. After all, for those years I was The Daddy (TM), the source of all that is fun, good, and happy. But things have gotten much harder now that Anna and Claire have gotten older. They have (dare I say it?) caught onto the fact that I'm not always 100% sure, 100% right, and 100% consistent. They're like the veliciraptors in Jurassic Park (I can't believe I'm making this reference) testing the fences systematically, looking for any weakness that can be exploited. And when they find those weaknesses, they take full advantage.

But that's what kids are good at, right? Learning? I mean, come on, in their first two years, they learn a foreign language starting from zero while they are simultaneously going through the most rigorous "physical therapy" sessions they will ever encounter: learning to use their entire bodies at once.

So by that count, I certainly can't blame them for the learning thing. But there's the rub. I try to teach them. I try very hard. I try to be consistent and loving and stable and accurate and all of that. And I think I am doing a fairly good job at those things. They still fight with each other, though. They are disrespectful to each other, and even to Angie and I. They say "hate". They stick out tongues. They scream, kick, and pout. (Yes, I know I do those things, too, sometimes... but not in front of the kids.)

What makes it hard, what makes me hate (oops... just said it) being a parent sometimes, isn't per se that they do those things. It's that I view those actions as marks of my own failure. It's that I already poured myself into the task of trying to teach them not to do those things, but I apparently didn't get it right. I run out of ideas. I can't think of another way of saying, "hitting your sister or anybody else is not the correct response when your gum falls out of your mouth." At times, I just run dry.

Lately I've felt like I was going through an extended period of dad burn-out. I still smile with them. I hug them, give them kisses, go to their shows, help them pick out dresses and all the usual daddy stuff. But if I'm honest, way down deep, I don't feel it. I don't enjoy being a parent. That's been the sum of it for the last few weeks. All of that has left me feeling frustrated and powerless. Oh, and grouchy.

And now comes the part about how an hour at Starbucks changed that. No, it doesn't have anything to do with coffee (come on... like caffeinating wasn't the first thing I tried...).

We went shopping after lunch today. For shoes. Yay, my 11th favorite kind of shopping. The girls all needed new shoes, and Angie happened to notice after lunch that we were near her all-time-favoritest-shoe-store-in-the-whole-entire-world (No, I'm not going to tell you the name). I grudgingly acquiesced to her pleas, on behalf of the children of course, and we headed to the store.

Of course, sometime between when our left turn signal turned on and when we actually turned into the parking lot, Katherine (nickname: "I-don't-sleep-in-the-car-EVER") fell into that deep, impermeable reserved-for-toddlers-and-rest-home-patients slumber. She was out like a light.

Shoe shopping potentially interrupted by sleeping toddler, from the mother's perspective: CATASTROPHE.

Shoe shopping potentially interrupted by sleeping toddler, from the father's perspective: OPPORTUNITY.

I eased the sleeping child from her seat, and issued the grand gesture of a father greatly appreciating the chance to escape the shoe store: I nodded toward the adjacent Starbucks. "I'll be in there," I mouthed.

Okay, I admit it. I probably could have shouted "HONEY, I'M A-GOIN' TO STARBUCKS TO GET ME SOME LATTE!," and Katherine wouldn't have so much as snorted. The motioning and mouthing -- those were theatrics. They were to explain to Angie that My first concern is, of course, the well-being of our child who so obviously needs to stay conked out while Daddy gets his coffee fix and lounges in big overstuffed eggplant-colored chair.

I headed off the the shop, bought a drink, and sat down. Katherine fidgeted a bit during the whole checkout experience, but as soon as I sat down, she went completely limp. She was fast asleep, drooling (as I learned later) all over me. She was spread-eagled across my chest and lap, with her head on my shoulder and her nose pressed into my neck. In short, the moment she went limp, I was immobilized.

So I sat.

I sat for a long time.

I sat immobilized for a long time.

I sweated a lot, too, because a limp sleeping toddler emits more heat per hour than the entire Sahara dessert emits in a year. (Some day I will prove that.)

But, as any father will attest, holding a sleeping child when there's just nothing else you can do about it is an existential experience. I found myself thinking about life, about fatherhood, about Anna and Claire when each of them was Katherine's age. A few times, I caught myself thinking, "I'll do better with this one. I'll be more effective." But I knew I had nothing new to offer Katherine over what I'd offered Anna and Claire. Some day, I thought, I'd be telling Katherine, "Don't hit your sister! Don't sass your mom!" Yes, this precious, innocent, pretty-much-perfect-in-every-way girl would some day be a velociraptor detecting every parental inconsistency in my regime.

The convergence of "Anna and Claire the velociraptors" with "Katherine the Innocent" took an odd turn in my mind. I remembered Claire bringing crying Katherine her blanky. I remembered Anna pushing Katherine in the stroller. She wore an expression of pride that rivaled my own. This is my baby sister, and I take good care of her. As I thought, I realized that for the most part, all three of the girls were happy, polite, and loving. I could, without any trouble whatsoever, imagine each of them growing up to lead successful lives with happy, meaningful relationships. Yes, my parenting wasn't (and never will be) perfect. Yes, they will learn how to take advantage of my lapses and omissions. But if I keep working hard to model positive behavior for them, they were going to learn that, too.

Oddly enough, that realization led to one more: I do, in fact, actually enjoy being a parent. Why else would I be sitting at a Starbucks with a giant stream of drool running down my shoulder for all the world to see while remaining basically immobile under a 24 pound squishy space heater? And why would I look forward, on every evening commute home, to opening the front door? Why would I get up early to take a walk with Anna? Or spend a few minutes playing with dolls with Claire?

Sometimes parenting sucks. Sometimes I hate it. But those are just moments. The plain old vanilla fact of the matter, though, is that I am absolutely 100% in love with three little girls and their mom. A few bad moments? Meh. It's a small price to pay.

By the way, can you pass me that latte there? I'd get it myself, but I've got this kid sleeping on my shoulder....


Thankful Five #3

Note: thanks to Carrie for this great idea!  And welcome Becky to this great exercise.

I am thankful today for:

  1. The official end of my daycare job.  I had fun but I'm ready to move on. 
  2. I'll miss this guy
  3. Running.  It's been a welcome change to have an interest of my own and a goal to strive for.  
  4. Girls who know what they want.  We had long hair around here for years, now they are choosing to keep it shorter. 
  5. 5 yrs old and ready for school!
  6. Our own home.  After renting for so many years, I really enjoy knowing that this is our space, it's not borrowed.
  7. A wonderful husband.  15 years in and I can't believe how he's grown. He's quick to help, does not complain and loves unconditionally.
I think I could probably even add some more items.  What a surprise for me!  I generally struggle to pick just a few things to be thankful for.  I think this is good for my soul.


My kids are fighters.

School begins next week.

Who me? Chaos?

We are so ready around here.  We have gotten our class lists, visited the new school and are ready with school supplies in hand.

I'm a bit nervous about 2 new schools, my youngest in Kindergarten and my oldest in her last year of elementary school.  It is amazing how much they have changed in just one year.

I can see all the girls growing up and my hope is that they can be kind and loving to those around them.  Although I don't think it'll be to each other any time soon.

Every read those posts from Moms who have wonderful children?  They seem to always be posting photos of their kids hugging and sharing toys and making each other breakfast.  Seriously? If I wanted a picture of something like that I'd have to be some kind of superhero.  That split second is nearly impossible to capture.

In my space I'm going to have to be real.  My kids fight.  A lot.  They call each other names, they pinch each other, they even occasionally chase the appropriate younger sibling around creating terror and panic.  It's chaos.  Often.

There are moments of love and kindness.  I try to praise them anytime I can although it is admittedly hard when my heart rate has not lowered yet from the chaos.

Anytime I'm really frustrated I can just quote the words of my wise mother: "Just wait, you'll have a kid just like you someday."


Thankful Five #2

I would love for this to be a habit.

I'm totally thankful for these two!
But, every time I've tried to start writing I find my mind is filled with everything I'm not thankful for.  I'm not thankful for loud screaming in my ear, I'm not thankful for stepping in cat barf, I'm not thankful for dirty floors, you know?  So, here I am - definitely needing a re-align.

Things I'm thankful for:

  1. New school clothes for my girls
  2. New running socks and shoes for my feet
  3. New challenges at my job
  4. A 15 year anniversary date this Friday
  5. My dishwasher

Hopefully there are no repeats there.  I am so thankful for my life and the all the love that surrounds me.     And many, many days I am especially thankful for that dishwasher.


Hooray for growing up

We had a remarkable birthday celebration with Katherine.

It is something else to have your youngest child turn 5.  This is a monumental age for us.  Generally all the girls have had a little more interest in Mommy starting at this point.  I'm hopeful.  Katherine has always been all about Daddy and I have really hoped for more of a connection with her.  I'm noticing that she doesn't complain quite as loudly when I have to read her the story, or put her to bed or take her out on errands.

It's also remarkable to see her personality starting to stabilize.  She has always been a bit unpredictable - crying at odd times, screaming when we least expect it, keeping us guessing.  Now I'm starting to understand her a bit.  She doesn't like to be left out but she's learning that she can watch her older sisters play and as long as she is quiet they don't really mind.  Now that we are at the end of the summer, she can't quite play by herself.  She's so used to one of her sisters supplying the game, setting, ideas and fun.

I'm excited for her to start Kindergarten this Fall.  I'm excited to see her become more independent this year.  I'm a bit sad that she won't have A. to play with this year since I've decided not to babysit full time anymore.  But, I'm happy that she is going to have time to be independent, explore her interests and get a bit more attention from me.

She is a gem, a gift and truly a precious part of our family.