Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Just wait…!": A bad parenting habit I need to break

It started when I was pregnant with my twins.  Experienced parents would cluck their tongues, shake their heads and state:

"Just wait….!"

"Just wait…you think pregnancy is hard? Wait until you have newborns!"
"Just wait….you better sleep now because you won't have a good night's sleep for the next 5 years!"

Then after the baby is born, I started hearing these predictions:

"Just wait till he starts teething! Now that's sleep deprivation!"
"Oh, I wish mine was a newborn again. Just wait till they can walk! You'll never sit down again!"
"Be thankful they can't talk yet. Just wait till they are toddlers. All I hear is "no! no! no!' Can you say temper tantrum?!"

Twin two year old glory
Then came toddlerhood:

"You think he has an attitude now? Just wait till he's a teenager!"
"You think you worry about safety now? Just wait till he's driving!"

I just sigh. Because with each "Just wait!"all I really hear is this:
"You think your life is hard now? Just wait! In a few years, you're going to be even more miserable! Parenting is really going to suck then! Haha!"

But, if I am really honest, I know I've said this phrase myself.

The real question is Why? Why do we caution new parents to "hold on! Just wait….!"

When I examine my heart and attitude toward parenting, I know I've said "Just wait!" for a few complicated, and rather embarrasing reasons:

1. I want to warn less experienced parents of what is coming up. Hey, the "Terrible Threes" ARE harder than the "Terrible Twos."

2. I want to be patted on the back: Yes, dear. Parenting is hard. Here's a gold star. 

3. I want to feel superior: You, poor new parent, haven't even experienced the agony that is to come. Heh, heh, heh. Just wait… 

#1 is the only reason that is only slightly unselfish (though really, any parent will discover that three is harder than two on her own). The other two reasons just make me cringe that I've ever said "Just wait" to a newer parent.

To me, and any exhausted parent who is just looking for sympathy and support for a hard day….or hard stage….of parenting, the last thing we want to hear is this: "Just wait. The worst is yet to come."

I've only been a parent for 7 years but I've come to realize two small truths:
1. Every parenting stage has its challenges. In some ways, it gets better. In some ways, it gets harder. Mostly it just gets different.
2. Messages of encouragement do far more good than predictions of doom.

I'm trying to break the "just wait" habit in myself. I want to look forward to the future with my children (yes! even the teenage years!) and not live in dread of every new stage.

But even more than adjusting my own attitude, I want to start offering more encouragement and support to my fellow parents. Maybe we could all try out some new "Just waits…"

"Just wait till you hold that new baby in your arms and kiss that sweet head. It is so worth it."
"Just wait till she smiles for the first time. Your heart will melt."
"Just wait till he says, 'I love you, mama!'"
"Just wait till she waves at you at her school program, nudges the kid next to her and says, "look! That's my mom!"
And even...
"Just wait till he gets his license and can go to Kroger and pick up milk."

Yes, all of those things are worth waiting for…and looking forward to.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Meng Menu: Summer Time Meals!

Sunday: Homemade pizza, salad
Monday: Chicken meatballs in cream sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans
Tuesday: Chicken taquitos, salad
Thursday: Out to eat
Friday (July 4!): Hamburgers and hot dogs, baked beans, chips, watermelon

Saturday: Sloppy joes, chips, apples 

Sunday: Helmans chicken, parm rice, green beans
Monday: London broil, baked potatoes, broccoli
Tuesday:  Chicken pot pie
Wednesday: Spaghetti, salad
Thursday: Asian chicken thighs, rice, green beans
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Biscuits and gravy, smoothies

I'm finally getting around to posting our menu for the next two weeks! I menu plan every two weeks but I've been forgetting to blog about it. 

I am trying out 3 new recipes in week 1. I've been getting tired of the same ol' same ol' dinners. Hopefully we'll find some new favorites!

Shopping was great this week and came in at $221, or $111 per week. Nice. I saved almost $50 with Kroger specials and a few coupons. Plus, I had an online coupon for double fuel points on weekends so the next time we fill up (which will be soon!) I will be able to save 70c per gallon. YES!

I am really looking forward to the 4th of July--my brother is coming to visit and we are looking forward to cooking out and some fireworks! 

Happy Independence Day! 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pregnancy after Loss: Survivor's Guilt

The past six months have been a time of immense growth for me, and very painful growth at times.

I shared very publicly and honestly about my miscarriage and the grieving process that I went through. While some women prefer to grieve privately, I found that writing and sharing my story on my blog and in the support group that I now co-lead has been very healing for me.

I found community in my grief.

I was part of "The Club." Ironically, it is a club that no woman wants to join but the support I have found in women who have also experienced loss has been a source of great strength, encouragement, and hope.

Then I got pregnant again.

In realty, my pregnancy happened very quickly after my miscarriage. At the time, it didn't seem quick. My womb felt achingly empty as the weeks ticked by that I was NOT "12 weeks along;" rather, I was 3…4…5…6…7…weeks post-miscarriage.

My miscarriage was complete at the beginning of February and I found out I was pregnant again on April 14th.

It was a quiet joy, and a confusing time for me.

After telling my family, I nervously shared about my pregnancy with my grief group co-leader and told her that I primarily felt guilty for being pregnant again so soon.

She said, "I think you have Survivor's Guilt."

That odd, complicated guilt of those that have experienced pain but have also experienced a new gift of life, and feel undeserving.

My first thought was: I AM PREGNANT! We were going to have another baby.
Our precious new Little Meng
My second thought was: What about my grief support group? Will I still be accepted…wanted…needed…now that I am…pregnant?

I had my inner fears, but in my heart I knew that I was still a part of this important community.

But this was not just a question that I asked in my mind. For many people, the first question they asked me as soon as I told them I was pregnant was, "So, what about the grief group? Are you still going to do it?"

I must be honest and say that these questions really hurt my feelings. One part of of me understood because I had the same questions, in a way. But the other part of me pushed against this idea that now I was unqualified to lead a grieving mothers group because I now had the joy of being pregnant again.

I have learned that the joy of knowing a new baby grows inside my womb is co-mingled with grieving for the child I lost.

The day I announced my pregnancy was actually a very sad day for me. There were many tears. Somehow, I felt as if Izzy, the baby we lost, could never be, even in my mind, as now my womb was occupied again in the nine months that should have been hers.

Complicated, intense, illogical, yes. But those were my real feelings, even as I thanked family and friends for their congratulations and well-wishes.

It is not easy to be pregnant after loss. A new pregnancy does not replace the baby we lost.

I am doing better, well even. I am thankful every strong pregnancy symptom (even as I run to the bathroom…oh joy!), am beyond impatient to find out if we will be having a little boy or girl, and am eagerly anticipating those flutters and kicks.

But, in quiet ways, I still grieve. I still need support.

And I hope, that even though I am pregnant again, I can still offer support, love, and wisdom to other women who are walking this road.

When I shared about my pregnancy at our meeting last month, the women in my group had nothing but words of encouragement and joy for me. I hope that if and when their time comes to welcome a new life into their wombs that I can also walk this new path with them as they experience this journey of mingled joy and grief.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Summer (Sanity!) Schedule

School is out! WOO HOO! No more crazy mornings, making lunches, scrambling out the door just in the nick of time…! Just days of fun…!

….long…days….of…fun.

Emphasis on "long."

Maybe you are like me and feel like "Oh my…how am I going to keep my kids happy this summer while also keeping my own sanity?

(on top of just day to day sanity I am also teaching online this summer. Oh, and I'm pregnant too.)

So, I decided to put together a little plan to help give us some structure to our long summer days.
Micah and Benji get up before I do and can do the first 3 by themselves. I usually get up around 7:30 or 8 and then we eat breakfast. 

"Clean up" will consists of general toy pick up and regular house work. It will also be an opportunity for the boys to earn "Bucks." (See below!)

Our Activity time will be anything from 
Playing at the park
Wednesday Playdate with friends
Going to Kids Cove
Going to the Library
Running errands 
Cooking Time
Doing work sheets or reading books
Painting/crafts
Playing in the bath (a favorite, especially for Benji)
Legos, Trains, etc. 
Or…if I am truly exhausted and have no creativity, playing educational games on the computer

After lunch is Rest Time which is ESSENTIAL to both  my sanity and the fact that I am working from home. Silas starts his nap at 12:30 and I am going to make the big boys lay down then too (or around there). Then I can get some work done on the computer and/or rest if I need to. TV time afterward is contingent on the big boys taking a good nap/rest (2 hours). 

My motivation is super-low in the late afternoon so I have a pretty lax schedule after Rest Time. 

I am hoping that our schedule will lead up till 5pm when DADDY COMES HOME FROM WORK!!! (aka the best part of the day!)

Bucks System
As a way to motivate my 6 year olds to do housework, summer work sheets, and general good behavior, as well as teach them about spending and saving, I made some "Behavior Bucks." 
I printed them on colored card stock  for free from this website
The boys can "Earn the Bucks," "Spend the Bucks," or "Lose the Bucks." Here are some examples below of how each one works in our family.
They can also earn bucks for a "Cheerful Attitude" or "Helping with Silas" or "Special Chores with Daddy"
So far, most of the bucks have been spent on iPad playing (also candy). They keep saying they want to save for
Toys R  Us but it is HARD (Saving is hard for all of us, isn't it?)
The boys can "Lose the Bucks" too. This has proven a pretty effective discipline method so far (even in just warning them that they are about to "LOSE THE BUCKS!"). 
I am hoping that our "Bucks" system will provide some structure and motivation to our day for chores and summer school work like reading and handwriting sheets. 

So, there it is: Our Summer (Sanity) Schedule. 

I really want to keep these faces smiling! (and mine smiling too!)


What are YOUR plans for the summer? How do you plan to keep (ha!) your sanity as well as keep your kids busy and happy?

Share your ideas below!  

Thursday, May 22, 2014

If you want relationships, you have to make them happen

When did relationships get so hard? I'm not talking about romance. I am extremely happy with my love life and adorable, though scraggly, husband.

I mean other relationships: FRIENDSHIPS.

In the past two years I feel like my friendships have gotten tossed on the back burner. And I mean like the way back burner, like the old stove that is rusting to pieces in the back yard.

Ok, I am exaggerating a bit.

But here is the truth: I get lonely and I want people to want to spend time with me.

When I was in high school and college, I really wanted a mentor. I wanted someone to notice that I was special and smart, a girl who just need a bit of attention and wisdom. I hoped and prayed that THE woman at church or THE professor would just take notice of me and ask me out to coffee.

It never happened. I was crushed.

Now that I am older (and less annoyingly needy), this longing for relationships has given me a startling kick-in-the-pants truth: If I want relationships, I usually have to make them happen myself.

If I want to get to know that student or offer some advice, I have to ask her out for coffee.

If I miss my mom friend, I shouldn't just write on her Facebook wall "I miss you! Let's get together soon!" Rather, I should call or text: "Hey, what day can we get together this week?"

If I am always canceling on a single friend who loves evening get-togethers, I need to offer a weekend alternative: "How about Saturday brunch?"

I find myself cringing when I say enthusiastically, "We should get together!" and then never doing anything about it.

Relationships take work:
Initiative
Creativity
Planning
Babysitters
Follow-through
Sacrifice

And…sometimes openness to being hurt. Last fall semester, I really desired to build relationships with some of my former students (something I wanted in college, remember?). I contacted them (10-12) and offered a weekly "Sunday Supper" at my house. I had visions of great food, rousing discussions, lots of laughter, and deep mentoring relationships being formed.

I didn't count on hurt feelings. But it happened sometimes. Weeks when no one showed up. Or other weeks when students were so late that dinner was cold (no apology or explanation). Opening up my home meant opening up my heart and that made me vulnerable to hurt.

But it was worth it.  Not for the "thank you's" or "You didn't have to do this!" but for the fact that I could offer a bit of solace to students during such a busy and tumultuous time in their lives. I also got to laugh a lot, play games, and indulge in fancy deserts that I wouldn't usually make for my immediate family.

We didn't do "Sunday Suppers" in the spring semester (mostly because of my miscarriage and recovery…I just couldn't pull it together) but I've recognized other desires in my life.

Like, I miss my "English" friends and discussing literature on a regular basis. I haven't taught English on campus in a long time and I was starting to get really down.

So, out of pure self-pity and literature withdrawal, I decided to start a Jane Austen Book Club this summer.

(My other motivation is that reading Austen is just amazingly fun so, really, I didn't need those other excuses).

I've had a healthy amount of interest in the club so far so I think it will be a good time when we start in June.

I guess the point of all these stories is this: If you are lonely, have a need, want a friend….reach out and strive to make your relationships happen!

It won't always work, but, as I have learned, if I want relationships in my life, I have to seek them out, invite people over, ask that person out for coffee, and make an effort to invest in people.

Because investing in people is worth it. But to invest, sometimes you have to take the first step and make it happen.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Have I buried my "talent" in the ground?

When I was in Jr. high and High school, I remember hearing numerous sermons preached on The Parable of the Talents. (Click on the link to read from Matthew 25).
Source
The parable challenges listeners to consider how they are using the "talents" the  master has given them: Are you investing two fold, five fold, ten fold? or are you the wicked servant buries his master's money in the dirt?

I remember fervently praying, searching my soul and heart's desires: What were MY talents? Was I using what God had given me?

Many of my youth pastors and summer camp speakers transliterated "talent" (a sum of money) to the modern day English version of "talent": a gifting, or natural ability. Clever, right?

Well, sort of. In my adolescent mind, I squished this parable neatly into the definition of "how am I using my gifting or natural abilities to serve the Lord?"

As a teen, I eagerly identified my talents as musical so I played the piano for the offering and sang specials during the service.

In college, I used my leadership abilities to become a prayer leader on my dorm.

As an adult, I have honed my creative writing skills and answered the "call" to write graphic novels to help end Human Trafficking in the USA.

I was (and am!) using my "talents" for the Lord, just like this parable says!

But this thought struck me this Sunday at church during the sermon: Am I really using ALL that the Lord has given me for his glory? Or am I burying the uncomfortable parts of my life in the ground, parts that are painful and messy?

Can my pain and suffering be used for his glory?**

Sometimes we think that God could never use pain and suffering like:

An eating disorder
An unplanned pregnancy
Filing for bankruptcy
Divorce
A boring job
A car accident
Chronic health problems
Estranged family members
Miscarriage 
And so much more….

So often, my response to pain and suffering is to complain about it, wish my life was different, or "bury it" in the ground, wanting to forget it ever happened.

But God has shown me recently that, if I ask him, he will show me how he can using anything to serve him, if we are actively looking for the redemption of our suffering and pain.

What if we looked at everything we have been "given" in life as a way to bring glory to Lord?

We can "bury" these "talents" in the ground; or we can pray and seek and search and invest in life, and hope, and redemption, seeking to return two, five and tenfold to our Master when He comes, our ears longing for these words: "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master" 



**The unanswered question here is "Does God bring pain and suffering into our lives?" I don't know. Perhaps. Perhaps not. The real question is, can I use what I have been "given" in my life for His glory?

Friday, May 9, 2014

When it isn't love at first sight

"Oh my gosh, he's got a little pig nose!"

This was my first thought when I saw my son, Benjamin, when they lifted him above the curtain that separated my eyes from the surgery that brought him into the world on that autumn day six years ago.

My 2nd thought was this: "No! I can't believe that was my first thought about my baby!"

I don't remember what my first thought was about Micah, Benjamin's twin brother. I just remember praying that he would live as they whisked him away to the NICU without even letting me kiss his fragile, white face.
I didn't get to touch my sons until many hours after my c-section. I gingerly held Benji in my arms, painfully conscious of every wire, tube, and IV in his tiny 4 pound body. Cuddling was impossible.
I kissed his head. His stubby hair felt rough against my lips.

Holding him felt strangely foreign. And I didn't want to hurt him so I quickly let the NICU nurse put him back in the isolate.

With Micah, I gently stroked his foot as he received an emergency blood transfusion. I didn't get to hold him until the next day.

My husband and I were prepared for the NICU. We knew the boys would be premature, would have to stay in the hospital for a while.

What I wasn't prepared for was how detached I felt from my twins after they were born.

Who are you, little ones? I wondered, my eyes searching the faces of my babies, who looked more little little old men than chubby newborns.

Who am I? 

This was the thought I couldn't wrap my mind around. I didn't feel like a mother. Mothers gushed over their newborns, exclaiming delight, rapture, love at first sight!

I didn't feel anything.

After two weeks, the boys came home from the NICU in all their 4 pound glory and I plunged my life into caring for them. I was determined to breastfeed; when that didn't work (at first) I pumped around the clock. My children would have "the best." After all, isn't that what "good" mothers do?

My days at home with my preemie twins fell into a predictable, robotic pattern:
First cry
Warming bottles
Feeding
Burping
Changing diapers
Swaddling
Back-to-crib
Pumping
Washing bottles and pump parts

Repeat

I didn't cuddle my babies or gaze in their eyes, stroking smooth cheeks and smelling necks. If I let myself indulge in a snuggle with one, I felt guilty for not cuddling the other. So, in the name of fairness, I didn't waver from my routine: First cry, warming bottles….

Other friends and my sister-in-law gave birth just a few weeks after I did. They posted on Facebook about how they had never felt such a love, how the baby filled every corner of their heart.

I inwardly rolled my eyes. They are lying. They are just trying to make themselves feel better. Motherhood is ROUGH!

But really, I was jealous of them. What was wrong with me as a woman, as a mother, that I didn't feel the way I was supposed to feel about my babies?

I definitely felt maternal. I took care of them to the best of my ability. I did my very best.
I loved them, I really did! But the most I felt toward my newborns was "responsible."

Mostly I just felt broken, defunct.

The weeks slipped by. One month. Two months.

Then, a gift.

We were sitting on the couch, doing some eye gazing and one of the boys (I wish I could remember which one!) looked at me and smiled for the first time.

Oh! My heart actually jumped in my chest and tears sprang to my eyes. And in this moment, I felt true warmth toward my baby.

 I felt the LOVE I knew was there but had been missing emotionally.

That smile was a seed that began to grow in my heart and I began to realize a shocking, startling truth:

Perhaps not every mother "falls in love at first sight" with her baby. Perhaps, maybe…some love stories start out slowly, growing deeper and truer over an entire lifetime.

Birth is just the beginning.

My twins are now six and a half years old. They are active, wild, funny, affectionate little boys. Every day when I pick them up from Kindergarten, they run like crazy maniacs across the street and fling their arms around my waist, yelling "MOMMY!" at the top of their lungs.

And my heart feels that same warm glow that began six precious years ago.

I still stare at them sometimes ("Mom…why are you looking at me? Stop!") and think:

Who are you, little one?

And instead of being filled with fear and uncertainty, this question fills me with eagerness to get to know my sons more and more as they grow each day, each year to adulthood.

I will never stop wanting to know them more completely, love them more throughly.

Because sometimes you don't fall in love with your baby at first sight . Sometimes love grows slowly with purpose and strength over a lifetime.

__________________________________________________

Love come in so many different forms.

I had a different "beginning" to my relationship with my 3rd son, Silas. You can read about it here in his birth story "A Rush of Love"

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Meng Menu

Sunday: Grilled steak, sour cream and chive mashed potatoes, corn on the cob
Monday: Tacos
Tuesday: Asian chicken thighs, rice, broccoli
Wednesday: BLTs, chips, carrots and celery
Thursday: Grilled pork chops, mashed potatoes, green beans
Friday: Out to eat

Saturday: Biscuits and gravy, smoothies

Sunday: Sloppy joes, chips, Green beans
Monday: Pan Chicken, rice w/gravy, green beans
Tuesday:  Grilled chicken thighs, baked beans, broccoli w/ cheese
Wednesday: Hot dogs, chips, carrots and celery
Thursday: Baked fish fillets, pasta w/ sauce, peas
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Pancakes, turkey sausage, fruit

I am glad to be done with grocery shopping for the next two weeks. I felt like I was using the cart as a walker today. Eight weeks pregnant and I am SO TIRED. Plus everything smelled really strongly at the store, especially the meat department and the deli (Fried chicken…ug!).

All that being said, I am happy with my final tally this week: $208. YES! 

Chicken thighs were on sale for 87c a pound! And I was also able to get some really nice ribeye steaks on sale too. Looking forward to using our grill more and more now that it is getting warmer. 

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