Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fire Swamp Parenting

The other day I was in my bathroom, madly brushing teeth, racing between appointments. I had precariously thrown my large hand bag on the counter.  It was perched awkwardly atop random odd shaped items, such as a bulky make up bag and bottles of whatever.  

From the corner of my eye, I glimpsed the heavy bag slightly dangling.  Then, even with water blasting full bore, I heard a faint creaking noise. Ever so faint. And ever so slow.  Suddenly I turned to face the bag, just in time to see it falling off it's rocky foundation.  I instinctively leaped to catch the bag, toothpaste dribbling down my chin.  Feeling a little proud of myself for recognizing the quiet creaking sound, I was immediately humbled by a thought about parenting.

Have you seen the movie, "Princess Bride?"  If not, stop whatever you're doing right now and GO WATCH IT.  (One of the greatest,  most quoted movies of all time!) 

However, since I'm assuming most of you have seen it, I'll refer to it now.  Remember the fire swamp? Remember, "It's not that bad really...Well, I'm not saying that I'd want to build a summer home here, but..." Yes, THAT fire swamp.  

Three things made the fire swamp a treacherous place.  You'll recall there were R.O.U.S.s (rodents of unusual size), quicksand, and fire blasts out of the ground.  These fire blasts, though daunting at first, eventually were no problem to handle because they were preceded by a distinct crackling/popping sound.  These sounds allowed enough warning time to get out of harm's way before damage was done.

In that moment of just barely catching the heavy bag with spit involuntarily spewing out of my mouth, I realized how close I'd come to a downfall (it's a really big bag with my whole life in it: planner, phone, keys, money, ID, diapers, wipes, socks, everything). Such a simple moment, but it taught me an important principle.

If we listen, truly listen, our children will send us quiet messages when they need our help.  We will be warned, sometimes, just in the nick of time, when one of them needs us to turn around and "catch" them before they fall.  Maybe it's a tiny feeling about checking on them once more before bed, or of checking a Facebook post, or leaving a note on a pillow.  Maybe you hear a slight change in their voice about coming for family prayers or scripture study.  Perhaps the phone rings less, friends aren't calling as often.  There are a million examples which occur every day in family life.

When my children were very small and we were living on the East Coast with no family close by, I had one dear friend with many young children of her own. She lived an hour away from me and it was a real treat to go to her home. But whenever I did, I came home with nuggets of truth that she shared.  One time, a young boy was acting up (can't remember if it was mine or hers), she just smiled and said, "It's time for him to learn a new skill!" She explained that she had learned that when her children became crabby, she knew they had outgrown their current knowledge and were ready for a new challenge in life. She'd teach how to tie a shoe, scrub a toilet, or sew a button, etc; something to make them think, use their coordination, and fill them with the pride of accomplishment. What brilliance!

If we listen to the ever so faint warning sounds our children make, we will know that they are in need. As we pray, listen to the spirit and our heart, we will soon become experts at predicting needs and preventing damage before it's too late. 

The problem arises when we as parents are not "tuned in" to those quiet precursors. Sometimes we fill our lives with too much busyness.  Sometimes our world is too loud with constant media streaming.  Sometimes we fear the future so much, we ignore the present.  There are many reasons to miss the warning sounds. 

The moment I caught my bag, I suddenly thought of my family.  Was I listening to the warning sounds? Was I facing them? Was I "catching" them in time? 

Each one is so precious. Each one is growing at their own pace, each one has different needs. But I have learned that when I have my eye single to the glorious calling of Mother, I am better able to hear those quiet warning sounds and sense those needs. 

Then it takes humble prayer, and time set aside for the precise purpose of just, listening. Just being still long enough to discern the best way to "catch" them. Sometimes, the answer is to let them "fall" on their own, sometimes the answer is to swoop in with a net! Sometimes the answer is to cushion their fall with a big fat pillow. But whatever the answer, it requires time, attention and intentional parenting to discern.

Sometimes the answer is as simple as FEEDING THEM! Or getting them to bed on time! Or changing a diaper!  I learned that great lesson once while reading Mosiah chapter 4.  Since then, I have tried to at least cover the basic needs, even on busy days.  If I don't at least cover the basics, contention abounds! and no wonder! 

But when laundry is clean, meals are predictable and sleep schedules are respected, other issues might be to blame for the warnings we hear and feel.

I'm so grateful I had this "fire swamp" lesson.  It helped me make a very big and very painful decision this week.  I will write more about that later when I have more time and strength!

In the meanwhile, I'd love to hear your experiences! Anyone willing to share a "fire swamp" experience they've had? What warnings did you hear? How did you respond? We can all learn from shared experiences! I know I do!

Thanks in advance for anyone willing to share.  It's time for me to put some little ones to bed ON TIME for once this week! :)

  And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness.
  But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.
Mosiah 4:14-15

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Red Light, Green Light

(In honor of Mother's Day, and my daughter Michealah, who just left on her mission this week, I am reposting this lesson she taught me a couple years ago)

Anyone with kids and a minivan knows how torturous red lights can be. Generally speaking, if you are in your van during the hours of 8 am to 7 pm (sometimes later!) you are likely the "taxi driver" and likely late for something.

I have been known to pray for lights to change when particularly strapped for time. My children get into the action by chanting "green, green, green, green!" as we approach each intersection.

This is not to say that I speed, exactly. Although I have "pushed the limit" in the past, I try not to do so anymore. Still, I often wish I could drive with no pesky pauses!

My tendency to despise interruption has been tested repeatedly as a parent. Any mother knows that it is nearly impossible to do anything from reading to visiting the restroom without a little friend or helper appearing. Forget trying to paint something.

Recently, however, I have begun to appreciate the "red lights" in my life. Let me explain.

I first pondered this while nursing a baby. I am ashamed to say that in the beginning, I was frustrated at having to sit down and do nothing else but feed the baby. Some women are blessed to be able to read, etc. while nursing, but I am not physically capable of doing so. Let's just say that my situation requires two hands and total attention. At first I felt annoyed. However, I gradually learned to love and then to anticipate my alone time with each child. We shared quiet moments of gazing at one another. It was as if the whole world stopped spinning for just that sweet time. Of course, it never lasted long as the toddlers always found just the right contraband activity while mom was occupied. But I wouldn't trade that time. I learned the value of a "red light."

Generally speaking, moms are multi-taskers (I help with homework while cooking, I mediate fights while scrubbing toilets). However, when it comes to really meaningful stuff, I have to be focused.

So, last week my oldest daughter, a thoughtful, poetic girl, told me she needed a monologue for her advanced drama class audition. I threw out some ideas that I thought would fit her personality, she googled them. When she found one she liked, she asked me to come watch it with her. I was running around, making dinner, driving people here and there, putting out fires, as is my daily routine. I avoided watching it for a long time, but finally, with rag in hand, STOPPED and watched it (I didn't even sit down, but at least I stood still).

The one she chose was "Emily" from Our Town by Thornton Wilder. Those of you who are familiar are likely nodding just now. I had forgotten the full message, I just remembered that my daughter reminded me of Emily in some way. As I took the time to really watch it (a great performance by Penelope Ann Miller from 1989), I felt haunted. As if Emily could see right through me. A busy fake. But even more, I felt exposed to my beautiful daughter. She knows me better than anyone I think. One of her spiritual gifts is discernment. She can read people, people like me.

There I was, standing with dripping rag in hand, my eyes unwittingly filled with tears. I felt frozen as if I couldn't go back to where I had been before the "red light." I couldn't just "get back to work" because it suddenly seemed so hypocritical or even pointless.

Still, someone had to make dinner. Eleven people ain't gonna feed themselves every day. But I learned something. I realized that sometimes, gazing into each other's eyes really is important. Sometimes those pesky red lights are very, very special. Maybe one day, we'll come to realize that the "red light" moments in our life are actually the ONLY thing that really matters. It is during those pauses in our general pursuit that we find ourselves really "living," perhaps because when we pause, we are actually "loving."

About four years ago I had just had baby number eight. I was still in the newborn stage (baby was 4 weeks old) and I had no desire to go out anywhere much. My wonderful, spontaneous husband came home from work one day and announced that we were going camping. All of us. Even me and the newborn. Hmmm. Talk about a "red light." I couldn't imagine anything more time consuming, difficult and crazy with a baby. However, he had been to southern Utah with his work and wanted to share the beauty of that place with us. I really really really didn't want to go. Camping in tents, outside with a nursing newborn did not sound appealing. In any any way. He assured me that he would take care of all the food. This was the ONLY reason I agreed.

I watched as he single-handedly bought, prepared and packed all the gear and food. We loaded everyone up and headed south.

I don't need to go into any more detail, but let me just say that that experience has proven to be the single most memorable/successful family trip we've ever had. For years afterwords it was all the little children talked about. They loved it, they adored it. They drew pictures of us in the "desert" and shared it with teachers, friends, strangers. When asked about favorite destinations, they never say "Disneyland, New York, Washington D. C., Mexico" (the other places we've been), instead they always answer, "camping in the desert!"

As I pondered this lesson this week, I was reminded that so often in the gospel there are ironies. When we "lose" ourself, we "find" ourself, the "greatest" is the "least," etc. I have realized that often what I perceive to be "red lights" are actually "green lights."

Instead of waiting impatiently for the lights in my life to turn ("We got the loan!,""I graduated!,""I've lost 20 pounds!"), I have realized that I am missing it. I am missing all the beauty and joy of life, tapping my foot, engine revving in the fast lane.

I resolve this week to do some gazing. I want to ponder. I want to appreciate. I want to enjoy. I want to savor. I want to stop, sit, listen. I am grateful once again to my priceless children who teach me everyday to be a better person.

As I have been driving this week, whenever I come to a red light, it is an opportunity. I turn, I look at them, we smile, we giggle, we sing, I tickle toes. I tell stories. I ask questions. I listen. I love. I live.

Our Town
written by Thornton Wilder
Emily: Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I'm dead. You're a grandmother, Mama! Wally's dead, too. His appendix burst on a camping trip to North Conway. We felt just terrible about it - don't you remember? But, just for a moment now we're all together. Mama, just for a moment we're happy. Let's really look at one another!...I can't. I can't go on. It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another. I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back -- up the hill -- to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover's Corners....Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking....and Mama's sunflowers. And food... And new ironed dresses and hot baths....and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every, every minute?

38 ¶ Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.

39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.

40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.

41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:

42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.



Happy Mother's Day!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Stop the Pain

I went to the dentist's today. Yeah. A moment of silence please while each of you takes time to squirm uncomfortably. 

For the first time in many years I required 2 hours worth of "work" (euphemism for TORTURE).  So, the dentist kindly attempted to numb the appropriate areas.  He talked to me for a few minutes, asked how it was feeling, was it numb yet? tingling? feeling "fat?" It wasn't feeling any of those things. It was just feeling...normal. Hm...he raised his eyebrows.  Ok, he says, I'll give you one more shot.  That should totally do it (we are on a tight schedule here because I've got a preschooler coming home in 1.5 hours). That didn't do it. So he tried again. and again.  Finally after 4 times the regular amount he admitted that he was out of anestetic.  We waited for it to take affect.  He asked me if I were normally resistant to pain medication or sedation.

I thought back a couple of weeks.  I had been experiencing some weird / disturbing symptoms.  The doctor ordered an MRI to rule out anything crazy.  When I arrived for the test, the technician offered me valium, in case of claustrophobia.  I am mildly claustrophobic so I figured it couldn't hurt.  He asked if I'd eaten anything, I admitted I'd had a piece of cheese, not knowing otherwise. He said no problem, but that I should "chew up" the valium instead of just swallowing. I chewed it up.  He asked if I were resistant to sleep aids.  I said "yes!" (getting me to sleep is nearly impossible).  So, he gave me two valium and had me chew them up!

Then he said to take hold of his arm (we had to walk into another room) as I might feel the affect soon. But I felt...normal.  We got to the right place. I sat and talked with him for awhile. He asked if I were getting sleepy? I said, "no." Finally we just had to do it. He let me put a cloth over my eyes and that helped a lot.  He slid me in. It was very noisy!  But he talked with me and I felt fine.  Afterwards I stood up and walked out unassisted. He just shook his head.  He told me, most people are drowsy after just one valium.  With two, he said, you should have been asleep on the table. 

So back to the dentist.  It finally got numb and he finally did the work, though I'll have to go back because we ran out of time.  

This got me thinking. For me, being a mother has been a lot like these medical situations.  I am more aware, more sensitive to pain than before I had children. Everything affects me. Everything they feel affects me.  It's like that quote that says "motherhood is like wearing your heart on the outside of your clothes for the rest of your life" or something like that.  

Because I am less resistant to pain medication than the average person anyway, being a mother has only increased my resistance. And it has lessened my ability to sleep.  This hyper-vigilence, or constant alertness is exhausting and not healthy for anyone.  

I love my children so much, it hurts. Literally. 

My new goal in life for parenting is this: Stop the pain. Somehow, someway, I need to just stop the pain. Stop the pain of perfectionism. Stop the pain of no sleep. Stop the pain of self-doubt. Stop the pain of over scheduling, the pain of regret. 

No, I don't want to become numb. I don't want to become "past-feeling." I just want to find that healthy balance called JOY. The one that includes pain and suffering, but also includes play and fun. It has some routine, but also flexibility. It has healthy basics, and some dessert too. 

The other day I spent more time in the scriptures than I had in a long while.  I felt so much...peace. I felt wrapped up in the Savior's arms.  By all accounts, I "wasted" a lot of time, because it was more than an hour, just ... reading. But it felt so good. And it soothed my pains, my little sufferings, without numbing me. In fact, I felt crystal clear for the first time in months about some answers to major questions! And yet, with all that clarity, I still felt peace and happiness! Perhaps the scriptures are the perfect remedy for me.  It was a good day. 

Have you ever seen the show "Touch?" It's about an autistic boy who sees connections in the world and orchestrates extraordinary encounters with magical outcomes for everyone involved.  You might think it's a bit forced, unbelievable. 

But I love it. It illustrates how I feel daily.  I see connections, I see and feel others' pain everyday.  Especially my children's.  I see what I could do to change or help their pain and I make myself crazy too often, trying to fix it for them. 

In one episode of "Touch," another autistic man helps the dad understand his son. The dad asks the man, "What does he want? Why does he run around and do all these things?" The man replies, "He wants to stop the pain." The dad doesn't really get it. Not sure he ever gets it. But I get it. The boy wants to stop everyone's pain. Because he sees. Because he knows HOW to stop their pain. Problem is, he's just a little autistic boy and he can't stop the pain without help. So he has his dad and a bunch of other people who help him in every episode.  The bottom line is, he wants also to stop his OWN pain. His overwhelming, constant pain. The pain of knowing, seeing and of never resting but always trying to stop the pain.  

It's ironic.  I want to stop all the pain my children feel and all the pain I see in the world. But truthfully, when I do so, or attempt to do so, I only make myself more crazy, more resistant to help, more resistant to sleep, more overwhelmed and undernourished, body and soul.  So it ends up causing more suffering... for everyone.  Even my most faithful "helpers."

I am very grateful to have the gospel of Jesus Christ in my life.  I am so grateful for the "healing balm," and the peace and comfort I always feel when I take time to let the Savior into my life. I'm so grateful that I can lay my burden at His feet. That at the end of the day, I can turn the management of the universe back over to His capable care.  He never fails to stop the pain. 

This Easter, as we remember Him who suffered all pain for us, let us also remember that He rose again on the third day to forever "stop the pain" for every one of us. For me, for you. 

I love Him and I testify that He lives. I wish you joy this season.

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
Mosiah 14:3-5