Smith Silliness

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Reflections on May

I’m sitting here, reflecting on all that’s happened this week.  The preschoolers that I’ve taught all year graduated on Tuesday.  My nephew  graduated from preschool on Wednesday.  Shawn’s last day of kindergarten was yesterday; James and Katie’s last day of school (3rd and 1st grade) is today.  And my niece graduates from high school this morning.  So much change, so many feelings.

I am blessed beyond measure to work at a job that’s more fun than work.  Where I get hugs and listen to sweet giggles and watch little ones learn so much on a daily basis.  Where my coworkers are the very best ladies anyone could ask to work with and the kiddos are amazing.

And so, having now been a teacher for two years and a parent for nine, this time of year has taught me some important things.

First of all, as a parent, I want to say to those of you who teach, I believe that you may never realize the enormous impact you have had on the lives of my children, but I pray that you do.  I pray that you know how their faces light up when they talk about you.  How much they care about what’s going on in your lives.  How happy and loved you make them feel.  One of our favorite teachers is moving away this summer and when I was telling my daughter she burst in tears – the ugly cry variety – because she will miss her so much.  Teachers, please, don’t think for a moment that what you do goes unnoticed and that hearts and lives aren’t changed because of you.

And secondly, as a teacher, parents please know that in the short time we have your children as our students we grow to love them with all of our hearts.  We love listening to their stories and watching them create works of art and learn how to be good friends and take care of each other.  Know that we look forward to seeing them each morning and that when you shed happy tears at their graduation program, we’re shedding them too.  Even though we’re only in their lives for such a short time we are so thankful to be a part of their journey.

May brings with it so much bittersweet – the joy and anticipation of summer and the future, the sorrow of leaving another school year, friends and classmates behind.  But change, no matter how painful, is always necessary.  And oftentimes, can be wonderful – just ask the butterfly who was once a caterpillar.

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Expectations

I’m an expectations person. Which is tricky when you have children. Over the years I’ve become more of a realistic expectations person – for example, I envision Christmas Eve dinner at Village Inn to be a time where we discuss how the Happy Birthday Jesus party went at church while all coloring quietly, but I know that half the time we’ll be telling the kids to get off the floor and to stop touching the wall decor instead.

One of the biggest problems with being an expectations person though, even a realistic expectations person, is that you’re often disappointed.  Because things rarely go as you had planned.  But as I’ve been reminded this Christmas season, I’m in good company.  All those years ago, the Jews were waiting for an earthly king to be born in a palace and save them from oppression.  But that wasn’t God’s plan.  Mary was excited to plan her wedding and start a normal, quiet life with Joseph.  But that wasn’t God’s plan.  Joseph wanted to provide a safe place for the Son of God to be born.  But that wasn’t God’s plan.

“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the Lord.
‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.'”
Isaiah 55:8-9

God’s plans often defy expectations.  The shepherd boy defeating a giant with a slingshot.  The prostitute that helped the Israelites enter the Promised Land.  The Savior of the World being born in a barn.

God has His reasons for unfolding history the way He does.  We don’t always know why, but we know we can trust the One who set the world in motion.

While I’m sure there are many reasons Jesus came into the world the way He did, I think one of the main reasons was to show us that we can all be used by God, no matter what our back story.  And to remind us that He is the God of the unexpected.

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Shawn

I just finished an email about this adorable kid:

2&Carbone 2014-079

He’s going to VBS in late July and I wanted to let his teachers know a little bit about him before he goes.  Because he’s speech delayed, and has some sensory processing issues.  And if you don’t know that ahead of time it can seem like he’s just a naughty kid.  He has a hard time sitting still and listening.  And he can get frustrated when people can’t understand his words, so he uses his behavior to get your attention.  And if you’re focused on his behavior you miss who he really is.  A sweet, considerate, loving little boy who goes out of his way to help others.

But because of these delays I have to write emails like the one I just wrote, before I can take him places that I would ordinarily just drop him off at – like VBS.  This past week I dropped my oldest kiddos off at VBS without any concern about how they’d do, but I kept Shawn home because I wasn’t organized and didn’t get a hold of the director early enough to come up with a plan to figure out how Shawn could be successful there.  So I wrote the email now so he can go to VBS July 20th.  I didn’t say anything about James and Katie in that email, because they can just go, but he can’t.  And it kills me to figure out how to communicate the good with the hard.  I don’t want him labeled, but I don’t want him constantly in trouble because no one knows.  So I’m working to find the balance.  To figure out to make him successful, even if laying the groundwork makes me cry.  When my heart’s desire is for him to be included and accepted, but I know he won’t always be.

I struggle with just wanting him to be “normal”.  To wear his shoes when he goes to Children’s Church, to not refuse to get dressed every.single.day, to say “hello” to new friends, to look in my eyes when I talk to him.  And I wish that people understood that I am constantly picking my battles.  That some days convincing him to wear underwear and sit on the potty is more important than getting him out of his pjs.  That I can’t ask him to just sit still, because he needs to move so he can figure out where his body is in space.  That there’s no point in making him wear shoes if it means he can’t listen.

Sometimes I look at the challenges that he faces on a daily basis and I wonder why God made him this way.  But on those days I cling to these verses:

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.                                                                                                                                – Psalm 139:13-14

We live in a broken world, so we all face hard things and we always will.  But God is bigger than the brokenness and there is redemption in the pain.  He made Shawn, and He gave Shawn to us, and God doesn’t make mistakes.  So it’s our job to guide him and protect him.  To teach him how to use his strengths to overcome his weaknesses.  We are his safe landing place, where the love is unconditional and the journey is traveled together.  There will be hard days and tears  and an aching desire for things to be easier, but there will be a closeness with God that may not have been possible before the need was so desperate.  And I don’t want to miss it.  The lesson in the journey.  The blessing in the storm.

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The Mom My Friends Think I Am

You know how sometimes, when you have play dates and your kids are going INSANE – literally dancing on your table or chasing each other around with a garden hose – and your gut reaction is to flare your nostrils and start screaming at them to JUST ACT LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE, but then you remember there are other adults in your presence so you calmly ask them to make better choices instead?  And then, said adults in your presence get a false impression that you’re really a calm, mellow mom and you start to feel guilty?  Like you’re intentionally giving them a false impression of yourself, when really, you just don’t want everyone to see how crazy you can be?

I do.  And to be perfectly honest, I love that calm, mellow mom, I wish I could be her all the time.  I wish with my whole heart that I could always be the mom my friends think I am.  But for some reason, perhaps because I’m human and my kids are professionals at pushing my buttons, I’m not always that mom.  I have literally cried over spilled milk.  And yell-lectured about regular kid stuff that I should have just let go.  I apologize to my kids often.

But sometimes – I let that calm, mellow mom come out.  And she let’s my kids have dance parties, and play in the sprinklers, and help make cookies and laugh too loud.  She takes time to look into their little eyes and giggle at nonsensical jokes and really listen to what her kids are saying.  She isn’t here all the time, but I’m trying to let her be here more often.  Because honestly, I think she just might be the truest mom.  The mom my friends think I am.

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Press On

This past year I, like a crazy person, tucked my kids into bed on Thanksgiving and headed out to take advantage of the Black Friday sales.  I went to Kohl’s for a few things and was supposed to be home in a couple hours so my husband could head out to Target for some deals.  We had it all planned out.  I knew it would be busy, but I did not anticipate the length of the check out line.  It wrapped halfway around the store, and that’s when I got in it.  When I looked behind me through the course of the evening it only stretched further and further into the distance.  Since I was on a time limit I was overwhelmed by the length of the line.  Even more so, because I couldn’t see the front of the store.  I really didn’t have a good way to gauge how long I would be in the line and when I would make it to the end.  I felt better when I could finally see the registers and the army of cashiers they had brought in for the occasion.

As I stood in that line, inching slowly along, I thought about how motherhood feels that way sometimes.  Time stretches out in front of us with no real way for us to know when we’ll reach the finish line, or even how we’ll know we made it.  Because really, we never stop bring moms.  I mean, sure, we hope that eventually our kids will leave the nest and build their own lives, but we’ll always be there for them.  A safe place to come home to, or to run to in times of trouble.  For heaven’s sake, I’m 35-years-old and when I broke my leg my mom came over to wash my hair.

We also have no real way to measure our success as a mom.  To really know if the job is done or done well.  Sure, there are things we can look for, do our kids grow up to be kind, loving members of society?  Do they love Jesus with all of their heart?  Do they say please and thank you?  But sometimes we do the VERY BEST JOB but our kids are still people with free will and they choose a path we would never have chosen for them.  Does that mean we messed up big time?  Of course not.  Because there is no front of the store, no bank of cash registers to tell us we’ve made it; we’ve crossed the finish line.  There’s just hours spend on our knees praying for the precious souls God’s given us.  There are tea parties and water gun fights and tickle wars.  Whispered “I love you’s”, kissing imaginary boo-boos, and reading Sandra Boynton for the one millionth time.  We press on.  When it’s fun and easy, and when it’s hard and overwhelming.  And we parent with open hands, because these children are not ours, they’re on loan to us from God, and there’s no distance they can wander that is too far beyond where God can reach.  Because He loves them most.

Paul said we are to “press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12).  We may never see the full fruits of our labor, but we will see little things along the way.  Things that motivate us to continue to press on as we raise the ones God’s called us to raise.  There will be setbacks, of course, but we have to focus on the good.  When our son says “Thank you” without being reminded.  Or our daughter rushes to soothe her sister’s cries.  Or a sweet little one takes your hand on a hard day and prays for you.  The finish line is there, sweet mama, just over the horizon, so press on.

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Patience and a Crazy Jacket

Katie was having a hard time putting her jacket on the other day.  Since my daughter is a huge over reactor, she threw the jacket on the floor and shouted, “I hate this jacket!!”  As we all know,  jackets, in general, are not secretly conspiring to drive preschoolers crazy, so I tried to explain to her that she didn’t need to be upset, but rather she needed to be patient with the jacket.

Often, when I try to teach something to my children I realize that I’m actually teaching something to myself.  I believe that at one point in my life I prayed for patience, and God chuckled and sent me five children.  I wish I could say that it’s helped, but patience is something I still struggle with on a daily basis.  And even though I do believe that children are secretly conspiring to drive their parents crazy, I think the trick to avoiding a grown up temper tantrum when they do something I don’t like, is to treat them with patience.

After all, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).  If I love my kids, and I do, I will strive to treat them with patience, and kindness, to love them selflessly and keep no record of wrongs.  But the trouble comes when I think I can do it all on my own.  It’s important to remember that God is Love (1John 4:8), so it naturally follows that, “God is patient, God is kind. God does not envy, God does not boast, God is not proud. God does not dishonor others, God is not self-seeking, God is not easily angered, God keeps no record of wrongs” [emphasis mine].  He is the example we should look to when we’re trying to navigate this journey called motherhood.  He will show us how to be patient with our kids, because He is patient with us.  He will show us how to be slow to anger, because He is slow to anger.  He will show us how to love selflessly by reminding us of how He gave His only Son to die on the cross and rise again so we can live with Him forever.

So the next time a jacket seems to be attacking your little one, remember the importance of teaching patience, to both of you.

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His Power Is Made Perfect In Our Weakness

We sat chatting in her van outside Village Inn.  Our pie was finished hours ago, but we didn’t want to waste our precious moments of uninterrupted grown up talk, so we stayed.

I had just shared about how we were trying to potty train Katie at night.  That morning I had asked her if her pull-up was dry, she paused for a minute then replied, “Not anymore!!”  I sighed and wondered out loud what I was going to do with her.  And my dear, sweet friend whispered in the silence, “Mandy, your kids are hard.”  Tears sprang to my eyes and I almost lost it.  Not because her words hurt my feelings; quite the opposite, it validated them.

I have spent most of motherhood trying to figure out how to do it right, and failing more often then I care to admit.  I always think it’s because there’s something wrong with me.  And sometimes, that is absolutely the case, but sometimes I think it’s so difficult because my kids are hard.  They’re wonderful, and sweet and hilarious, but they’re also mischievous, and sassy and more energetic than should be legal.

But really, aren’t most kids that way?  Even knowing that, though, how often do we sweep that away and think we should just be doing a better job?  I’ve cried with other mom’s over potty training and figuring out how to get our kids to sleep through the night because we just need rest.  We feel like somehow it’s our fault that our kids aren’t turning out perfect, when in reality it’s that this mothering thing is harder than we realize.  And we often don’t give ourselves enough credit for doing the best we can.

I was talking to my husband about all this the other day, and asking him why he thought God would give me these kids I obviously can’t handle.  His gentle answer (which irritated me at the time, but was actually very wise), was that maybe it was so I would rely on God more, and turn to Him in my weakness.

This verse really says it all.  Paul has been pleading with God to take a hardship away from him, but God says no.  Paul tells us about God’s response in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

I choose to boast as well.  So that others won’t see merely a mom who struggles, but rather a woman who turns to God in her struggles, knowing that’s the only way to make it through.  I hope you do the same.

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It’s All The Same

It happened again the other day.  A friend of mine who had just had her second little one was talking about how hard it was, and then she looked at me and said, “But I really shouldn’t complain, I don’t know how you do it with five!”

People do that a lot, start to share how motherhood is hard and then feel guilty when they realize that I have more kids than they do.  Like somehow their perception of my situation being “harder” invalidates their reality.  As if I’m gonna call them out on it or say, “Oh yeah, you think you’ve got it bad, you should hear about my day!!”  Not that I would ever say that, but I’m sure there are people who would.

It’s a pet peeve of mine, actually, that we seem to invalidate each others feelings.  The one that drives me crazy is the Facebook post from the super pregnant lady saying, “I know I shouldn’t complain, but my feet are swollen and my back hurts and I just can’t wait to be done being pregnant!!”  And then she gets slammed for not being grateful for the fact that she is pregnant.  Like you’re either one or the other, grateful OR uncomfortable.  Happy with being a mom OR frustrated that your kids just colored on each other with permanent marker.  It’s like we’ve forgotten that it’s ok to be BOTH.  Grateful for the life growing inside of you AND so ready to be done.  Overwhelmed with your only child AND aware that I may be overwhelmed with my five.

Hard is hard.  Even if something is harder for someone else it doesn’t mean that your situation isn’t hard  Having a sick kid in the hospital is very hard AND having a sick kid at home is very hard too.  It’s not a competition, it shouldn’t be anyway.

So the next time someone starts to apologize for saying they’re overwhelmed with their kids because they have fewer kids than I do, I’ll smile and say, “Motherhood is beautiful AND hard, no matter how God formed your family.  And aren’t you glad He gave us each other to share in BOTH.”

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An Open Letter To The Technician At The Eye Doctor

You called yesterday morning and told me there was a cancellation and asked if I wanted to bring my two-year-old in early.  For a couple different reasons, one of which was that my sister’s wedding is the week of the old appointment, I decided that it would be worth it to come in early with my youngest four children instead of waiting for the day I already had a babysitter lined up.  I told you I’d have to bring my kids and you said it was fine with you if it was fine with me.  After confirming that my husband could pick up the oldest from the bus stop, I rearranged the day to make the appointment happen.

We tried for early naps but that was a bust.  So I packed up my slightly grumpy five-year-old, three-year-old and two-year-old twins, with LOTS of snacks, coloring books and electronics, and headed to the office.  The five-year-old and three-year-old insisted on each pushing a stroller and I was exhausted by the time we finally checked in.

Our name was called and you came out and pushed one of the strollers for me.  You got us settled in the room and let us set up a movie viewing station for the kiddos who were not being seen.

You told me I wasn’t being silly for coming in when the symptoms had died down as soon as I made the appointment.  You made us all feel comfortable and welcome, even with all the energy and noise.

When you came back to dilate Maggie’s eyes you were gentle and kind.  And you told us we didn’t have to wait an hour in the tiny room with expensive equipment and a no snack policy, but that you’d help us out to the lobby where there was room to play and eat.

When I asked if you could get us to the family bathroom instead you gladly obliged, and didn’t seem to mind when Katie started to go potty before we could even get the door closed.

When Maggie’s pupils were appropriately enormous you helped wheel us back into the exam room and offered to take the non-patients into the next room and babysit so I could have an undistracted conversation with the doctor.

When I came to pick them up you had let them try on glasses that made them feel “cool” and you were snuggling with the littlest one and thanking me for letting you do it.  You helped Shawn and Katie put on the shoes they had discarded at some point in the lobby and you offered to help us get back to the van.

You told me my kids were good and healthy so it made sense they’d have so much energy.

You said you enjoyed getting to play with them.

You let them give you bear hugs before you walked back into the doctor’s office.

I don’t know if you know how much you were an answer to prayer.  Or how your kind words soothed my tired mama heart.  Or if you realize that you made what seemed to me to be an impossible task, possible.  But I hope you do.  Your kindness made my day and will forever touch my heart.  Thank you.

– The mom with all the little kids

 

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Love Came Down

On Sarah’s most recent trip to the Children’s Hospital in the back of an ambulance they strapped her snugly onto the toddler stretcher and tucked a stuffed dog under her arm.  I tried to return it when we got to the ER, but they said she could keep it.  And she, literally, loved the stuffing right out of that dog.  They were inseparable, those two, he brought her comfort when she needed it most.

What is it about stuffed animals that makes kids feel secure?  When her Aunt Steph came to visit she brought Sarah two more stuffed animals.  And she loved them.  I think it’s having something to hold onto when they feel scared.  A physical reminder that they’re not alone.  As adults we may not carry stuffed animals around anymore; but when I’ve been in the hospital, birthing babies or having surgery, I’ve wanted a physical reminder that I’m not alone.  To be able to hold tightly to my husband’s hand, get a hug from my mom, or listen to reassuring words from my sister.

God knew we wouldn’t want to feel alone.  He made us for relationship.  And over 2,000 years ago, in that cramped, stinky stable, He send us a physical reminder that we are not alone.  Jesus came down to us.  To meet us in our weakness and our fear; to celebrate with us in our triumphs; to remind us of just how much we are truly, outrageously, wonderfully loved.

That love is for every single one of us.  Jesus was born to a blue collar worker, in a stable, and his birth was announced to shepherds.  On that night, so very long ago, the Good News, the Best News was proclaimed to those shepherds by an angel, ““Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11,emphasis mine)

Immanuel, God with us, our physical reminder that we are never alone and we are so very loved; today and always.

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