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Thursday, May 30, 2013

This Is NOT Working...

It has been a crazy day here in the Watts house. I know that is shocking to you, my dear reader. You were probably expecting that I would write of our hour of family prayer time this morning, a bread-baking extravaganza this afternoon, followed by my children washing each other's feet as servant-hearted siblings do.

Yeah, it went something like that.

In reality, I feel like I have been playing referee all day long, focusing my energy on keeping tiny little people with more energy that NHL hockey players from beating the snot out of each other at a moment's notice. "You took my cracker!" BODY SLAM! "He said he loves Daddy more than I do!" UPPER CUT TO THE CHIN! "She acted like she was going to touch my boo-boo!" TKO!

There is no doubt about it - being a mom is stressful. I am tired. I have aged quickly. I have wrinkles on my wrinkles and cellulite on my elbows. I'm pretty sure the pitch of my voice has dropped to that of an old smoker lady.

I need a break. You probably do, too. The thing is, I actually GET ONE! Not to rub it in or anything, but I *might* be going on a trip in 7 days and 13 hours with my husband and dear friends to the British Virgin Islands. I *might* be spending a week on a 50-foot luxury catamaran, sailing the high seas and being uber adventurous. I *might* be. (For those who need clarity, I actually AM doing these things, but I thought if I wrote *might* you *might* not be quite so envious of or irritated with me)

But I have to say, if you could sit down and read a storybook of the last five years of my life, you might just ship me off for even longer, because it's been downright ridiculous. And hilarious. And tiring. And frustrating. And amazing. And refining. And did I mention tiring?

I know all of us deal with the same stresses, the same work loads, the same feelings of fatigue and impatience and anxiety. I know we all struggle with being the "perfect" mom, whatever the heck that means, and not damaging our children beyond repair.

Even though they severely damage us.

Oh, the good FAR outweighs the bad, but I am mentally and emotionally scarred in ways that I will never fully recover from, and I have walked through experiences with my children that bring me to the ledge. That ledge where I feel like if they push me one more time I'm going over. Embracing crazy. Lock me up and throw away the key, because Prozac ain't gonna be strong enough anymore.

I thought, in order to buy back your love and affection after mercilessly rubbing my amazing BVI trip in your faces, that I would share one of my personal favorite parenting stories with you. I affectionately refer to this as "This is NOT working..."


On a hot, hot summer's day...

Actually, it was a morning in May. And it wasn't that hot until my blood boiled and smoke came out of my ears.

It was a Thursday morning like any other. I was getting my two big kids ready for preschool, running around getting breakfast done and teeth brushed and all of the other chores that seems to reoccur day after day after day. I was eight months pregnant with Foster, my third child, and believe you me when I say that I was as big as a house. He was my third child in as many years, and my body didn't know up from down (well actually, that's not true; gravity had done quite a work on parts of me that I didn't even know COULD sag, so I guess it just didn't know UP).

It was around 8:00am, and we had already been going strong for a couple of hours. My daughter and I had gone back and forth and around and back again about her attire for school that day. Let's just say, to keep it short and sweet, that she has opinions about clothes. A lot of opinions. Normally I allow her to pick her own stuff, because what do I care if she is wearing stripes and polka dots and plaid and Disney Princess cowgirl boots all at the same time? She does her thing and she makes it work.

On this particular day, though, I had chosen her school clothes because it was field day, and her teachers had requested shorts, shirts, and tennis shoes. Trying to respect their request, I laid out her outfit and explained to her that, just for this day, I was going to make the decision. This did not go over well with my OCD opinionated angel, and she commenced to arguing throughout the morning for her right to wear her Easter dress and her ballet shoes.

On the other hand I had my son, who at almost two was fully in the throes of mischief and exploration. He was the happiest little sinner you could find, a regular comedian, and he was always into something.

After getting the kids (finally) dressed and prepared for school, I headed to my bathroom to throw myself together as quickly as possible. I began to brush my teeth while eyeing the clock and giving myself a mental 10-minute countdown to get out the door. While I was brushing, my daughter walked in. Naked.

"Um, Emerson, where are your clothes?"

"What clothes?"

"Uh, the clothes we just put on you for school, along with that french braid that you requested and have now pulled out."

She just stared at me. I asked her again. She stared. And then she said, simply, "I don't want to wear them."

Oh, well that explains it.

I was irritated, but I kept my cool as I calmly told her that it would be in her best interest to go and redress herself in a very timely manner. She of course burst into tears, and as we all do whenever we don't get what we want, threw her naked self on the floor in a fit of rage.

As she was crying my son walked in. Naked. And covered in poop. Like, poop-caked-between-his-fingers-and-toes covered.

A few things went through my mind simultaneously: 1. "I think I am gonna ralph," seeing as I was eight months pregnant and had a VERY weak stomach, and 2: "oh, no, the carpet!"

When we purchased our home the carpets were in terrible condition. I think I referred to them as "germ-infested" in a previous post. I think a more apt term would be "janky." Just janky. I wanted to get them cleaned since were not in a place financially to have them replaced right away, but I decided to wait until closer to when the baby was due so that I could feel semi-okay about laying him down on the floors without worrying that he was going to get e-coli or something.

Well, I finally got them cleaned. Of course it had to have been done the day before my son walked into my bathroom covered in poop.

I did what any good mother would do in that moment - I held my breath, grabbed my son, threw him in the shower and turned on the water. Now he was screaming because the water was cold. My daughter is laying in the floor of my room screaming over her wardrobe. And, because I picked up my son to put him in the shower, I was now coated with a thin layer of poop all down the front of my new blouse.

I made sure my son was okay in the shower, stepped over my flailing daughter, and walked tentatively into the rest of the house. I was terrified to see the carpets. 

I walked down the hallway toward the first room with carpet, the room where I had left him playing. It took everything in me not to cry when I walked through the doorway and found his clothing, his nasty dirty diaper, and poop footprints all over the floor. It looked like an invisible little poop monster had come and run laps.

I walked with a sinking heart to the next carpeted room to find the same thing. And the next. And the next. That little rascal had managed to step in enough poop to track it good and heavy through every single carpeted room in the house. The day after the carpets had been professionally cleaned. While my daughter was throwing the world's worst temper tantrum. While I was 8-months pregnant.

I went back to the bathroom and rinsed off my son while trying to keep my breakfast down. At this point he was playing joyfully in the shower. Fabulous. I decided to leave him in there to play while I dealt with my seemingly-PMS-ing three-year-old.

She actually beat me to it. As I turned around to speak with her, she walked up to me and took my hand. What she said will be forever etched in my memory as the most amazing words spoken by the world's most precocious child:

"Mom, I know you're frustrated right now, and I get it. But this (she paused here, motioning to the clothing I had laid out once again for her to put on) is NOT working."

Yes, she meant that her outfit was not "working." Like, in the Devil-Wears-Prada-hoity-toity-fashonista way.

At that point I couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry, or just lay down and take a nap. I waited for a moment, then I turned and looked at her with my serious-as-a-heart-attack face.

"Emerson. Make. It. Work."

Amazingly, that was the last of the conversation. She frantically put her clothing on as I peeled off my poop-covered shirt, still make-up-less and even farther from being ready than I had been 10 minutes before. We were officially late for school. Obviously.

I threw on some sweat pants and a tee-shirt, dressed Sutton, and flew out the door to school. I figured since he had already ground the poop into the carpet with the Chariots-of-Fire-inspired sprints it wouldn't hurt for it to sit until I got home to start the clean-up process. Which I did. I scrubbed and I scrubbed. And scrubbed some more.

You can still see the stains.

But every time I see those stains I remember the chaos that I am capable of handling. I remember that even when I feel like I'm at my breaking point, I'm really not and that tomorrow is a new day. I remember how much I have grown as a mother since then, and I laugh so hard every time I think of that story. Because it was a disaster. But we made it through fairly unscathed, although I am pretty sure I'll be slightly mentally scarred for the rest of my life because of it.

We juggle a lot of balls as moms. Or, maybe more appropriately, we juggle a lot of poop. Even when the crises are not life-threatening, earth-shattering issues, even when we are trying to work our daughters through clothing drama and attitude problems, we are often covered-up in D-R-A-M-A, feeling overwhelmed.

I love what the Lord promises us in Isaiah 40, that even when we are exhausted, He will never fail us and He will refuel us to fight for our children another day:
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts. He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out. He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles. They run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind.
That's quite a promise. Something I will definitely cling to until I meet Him face to face. I am weak, but thankfully He is strong. He is so strong that I can't even wrap my brain around it, and He holds me near. Don't know about you, but I am sure grateful.

As for the carpets, I had them cleaned again about a year later. The following day my youngest threw up all over the floor. Twice. Que sera sera.

Feel free to laugh!

Anger Management

As a follow-up to my post from earlier in the week (, I would just like to share the order of this morning's events:

5:50am - My alarm goes off and I stumble to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee, ready to have some time with the Lord.
5:52am - My two-year-old starts crying in his crib.
5:55am - My five-year-old comes out of her room to ask me why it's still dark outside, to which I respond with a fun little guessing game. A: the sun decided it wasn't coming out today; B: what do you mean, the sun is shining bright, can't you see it, or C: because it is not stinking time to wake up yet and that makes mommy want to punch the wall. And the answer is...
6:02am - My four-year-old wakes up having wet the bed. This is not a joke. Oh, how I wish it was a joke.

Now I have everyone under lock and key in their bedrooms with strict instructions not to come out until there is a big, fat 7 on their clocks. 

If your day started off in a way that wasn't picture-perfect, just know you're not alone. 

Now to go and strip the bed of the urine-soaked sheets, one of my very favorite pastimes. 

Feel free to laugh!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Not-So-Quiet Time

"'Rise early, for it is the early bird that catches the worm.' 
Don’t be fooled by this absurd law;
I once knew a man who tried it. 
He got up at sunrise and a horse bit him."
 -Mark Twain

The laws of time as I know them changed forever on October 9, 2007. This is the day my daughter was born, the glorious, terrifying day when, miraculously, I lost over 15 pounds in a matter of hours.

A lot of other great stuff happened too. But that quick weight loss is something else, huh? 

I still remember how I felt in the hours and days that followed her birth. My insides were jumbled up as all of my lady parts shrunk back down to size. I was 95% sure that I loved this little creature with the crazy eyes, and 78% sure that I actually wanted to take her home as my prize once my stay at the hospital's women's center was yanked out from under me by my insurance carrier finished.

One thing a woman can't grasp until she becomes a mother for the first time is how drastically her perception of time will change. Once a mother, I learned to sleep when I would normally be awake, to wake when I would normally be sleeping, to finish tasks in a fraction of the time it would have taken me when I was "just" a wife, and to do all of this while keeping my newborn daughter on a water-tight schedule so that she would ultimately grow into a "normal," "well adjusted" child who sleeps, eats, and poops on command. I even taught her to read before her first birthday.

Kidding. I think she was more like 14 months. Huked on foniks.

I quickly realized that finding alone time, "me" time, was going to be much more difficult than it had been in the past. Gone were the days of doing what I wanted, when I wanted to. In order to have time for myself, I was going to have to make some serious sacrifices.

One area of my life that I have always tried extremely hard to prioritize is my time alone in the presence of God. I am nothing if not for His Spirit in me, and in order to walk daily in stride with Him I must, must, must spend time in His Word and in prayer. I am a morning person. I have to have my time with the Lord in the morning, because by 8:00pm, I am officially spent both mentally and physically, and nothing ever gets accomplished except the occasional load of laundry being folded. And ice cream being eaten.

Before I had children, my typical morning looked something like this:

7:30am - My alarm goes off and I hit the sleep button.
7:40am - My alarm goes off and I hit the sleep button.
7:50am - My alarm goes off and I stumble to the kitchen to get my cup of coffee, irritated and wondering why jobs have to start so dang early in the morning (and, let me just say, I was in MINISTRY, and if you've been there you know what that means...getting in to work by 10:00am was usually quite acceptable, because you'd been spending time with the LORD before then!).
8:00am - With my Bible in hand, I'd settle in on the sofa with some nice worship music in the background, my hot coffee on the side table, and my journal and pen on my lap, ready to pray and listen to the voice of God. Overwhelming peace. Quiet. Tranquility.

Now, those of you with children read this and you laugh. You laugh in camaraderie, followed up with a "oh, my, I remember those days" sigh. You can probably still remember the mornings when you awoke to the sound of birds chirping because they had awakened before you, and the sight of bright rays of sunshine blazing through the cracks in your curtains. You remember the way you did things every day in their proper order: coffee, breakfast, teeth, shower, makeup, hair, clothes, go. These days I'm lucky if I remember to brush my own teeth at all because it takes 10 minutes to brush my children's for them as they pitch a royal fit over whether they say "eeeeeeeh" or "aaahhhhhhhh" first for that day's tooth-brushing pattern.

But I digress...back to my quiet time.

After having children, everything changed about my quiet time. Everything.

I think that there is some kind of unspoken pact made among newborns while they congregate in the hospital's nursery. A pact to band together to make sure that their parents know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that they now rule the roost. That "bedtime" is questionable, meals must be served promptly, and that when they say it's time to wake up, well, that is when it's time to wake up. 

No one ever warned me of the laws of baby slumber. Something like, "she who wakes up must do so at the most inconvenient time possible." 

Anyhow, after my daughter was a few months old and was sleeping 12 hours a night, and after I settled into a routine and recovered from the trauma that is becoming a first-time mother, I decided that I would start to...wait for it...wake up early for some time with the Lord. On purpose. Like, regularly. I still remember my exuberance at the thought of being so disciplined that I was actually setting my alarm to get up before the sun. I just knew this was going to be a powerful time of communion with the Lord, since I was waking early and my daughter "always" slept until at least 7:00am.

In my mind's eye, I saw my morning looking something like it had in days past...the coffee, the quiet, the focused time with God. Instead, I am pretty sure it was more like this:

5:45am  - My alarm goes off and I hit the sleep button.
5:55am - My alarm goes off and I stumble to the kitchen to get my cup of coffee, trying my very best to be as quiet as an Indian (I mean, Native American). As I enter the kitchen I accidentally kick a chair, knocking it over and shaking the house. I freeze, completely silent while I assess the damage. I hear no stirring from the baby's room, so I proceed with fixing my coffee.
6:00am - I tiptoe to my reading chair, turn on the most dim light possible, wipe the dust off of my Bible and journal, and sit down to be in the presence of the Lord.
6:01am - I begin to pray.
6:02am - The baby cries. I ignore her.
6:05am - The baby cries harder. I start to feel rage.
6:10am - The baby is crying so hard I am starting to worry that she has a limb stuck between the slats of the crib, so I stop what I am doing and go in to check on her. Upon my entry she stops crying and grins. The end.

The next morning I try again. Only this time, I get up 15 minutes earlier. So does the baby.

Day three, same drill. Set my alarm even earlier. The baby does too. Well played, baby. Well played.

And that is just with one child. Once number two came along, and then number three, the chances of everyone sleeping each morning until a reasonable time become slimmer and slimmer. Nowadays I am convinced that I could wake up at 2:30am and by 2:40am the kids would be up and ready for breakfast.

A few days ago I woke up early to try and have some time, and the moment my rear end hit the chair I heard my 23-month-old in his crib yelling, "no." Nothing else, just "no." Over and over and over and over. Try listening to that for an hour while trying to journal and pray; the fury that built up inside threatened to overflow, and I wanted to punch something, anything. By the end of my "quiet time," I needed to confess my anger and beg God's forgiveness, which is pretty funny considering that if I had just slept in I wouldn't have gotten angry to begin with.

There are times when I am beyond frustrated with this scientific phenomenon, times when I want to ask the Lord, "I mean, really? Don't you see, I am waking up early, sacrificing my precious sleep, to spend time with You like You say I should? And you can't give them a dose of spiritual Benadryl to keep them in sleepy land for even a few more minutes? What about MY quiet time?!"

Then He whispers, "But my child, it's not about you."


You see, I don't think that having a "quiet time" makes me a better Christian, or more loved by God. He is not concerned with checking off a list of the chores I have accomplished. He doesn't need my time. But He wants me to want Him. He wants me to want to spend time with Him. It brings Him joy to see my sacrifice of what I would consider precious sleep to be with Him, even when there's not much that gets accomplished because of the chaos that is life with munchkins.

I think He wants to see that I trust Him.

I think it is less about how long my prayer time is and more about whether or not I really believe Him to hear and answer my prayers.

I think it is less about how eloquently my journal reads and more about whether or not I am honest with Him in the few words I can write.

I think it is less about how many Scriptures I can cram in and more about chewing on the simple truths found in a small section of His Word.

I think it's more about the just showing up. It's more about being available for Him, just saying, "I'm here."

Even as I write this, I must be honest and tell you that there are seasons when I quit. Sometimes I just don't even feel like trying. I grow discouraged, frustrated, and tired of not seeing the fruit of my sacrifice. So I place my time with Him on the back burner and opt for my solace to be found under my down comforter. And I get good sleep.

But in those seasons, I am dry. I am worn down. I am tired, even though I am sleeping. And it's not worth it. It's just not.

Time will never again be what it was to me before I had children. What I once took for granted has become a precious and rare commodity, and I must make the most of it. And, most importantly, I must give my time back to the One who holds all of time in His hands, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. Because it's the least I can do when He deserves my everything.

"One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple" -- Psalm 27:4

Before we part ways, I will leave you with one quick tip for those morning quiet times. If your precious little one often awakes and decides to serenade you with a steady stream of cries as you pour your heart out to the Lord, I would urge you to visit your nearest drug store where you can purchase a mega-pack of earplugs for under $3. These things really do the can tune just about anything out. They also come in handy on extended car trips.

Feel free to laugh!

P.S., I feel I would be remiss if I did not mention that when I think of the many women who would love nothing more than for a baby's cry to interrupt their quiet time but have not yet seen that dream fulfilled, the sounds that once frustrated me instead fill me with an overwhelming thankfulness. My home is loud. It's stirring. And I am thankful. 

P.P.S., If you long to see your dream of motherhood fulfilled and your home filled with the symphony of chaos, know that I would love to pray for you and with you about this! 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Chick-fil-a...My Pleasure.

I am, proudly, from the birthplace of the chicken sandwich at its finest. Atlanta, GA, the home of Kris Kross (may he rest in peace), Home Depot, and all of the goodness that is Chick-fil-a. There are very few things that excite my taste buds as much as a spicy chicken sandwich with a freshly-carbonated-from-the-fountain Coke Zero. If you're not from the south and you wonder what the culinary masterpiece is to which I am referring, #1., I pity you, and #2., I say head south. There's nothing like a southern-fried chicken sandwich and it's worth the drive!

Chick-fil-a is known for going the extra mile, for being a company that is founded and led in integrity, and for creating an atmosphere in their restaurants that focuses on serving the customer and creating an enjoyable experience from start to finish. How many other fast food restaurants deliver your food to your table, walk around and offer refills, and are generally just awesome? Yes, you read that correctly - I did use the words "fast food" and "awesome" in the same sentence. They even have their own corporate language, answering "my pleasure" instead of "you're welcome" when a customer says thank you.

My family frequents Flick-fil-a, as we affectionately call it. They have fabulous play areas for the kids, and we have spent many a rainy morning on the Chick-fil-a playground. There is one experience, though, that stands out from the rest. One fateful evening that is forever etched in the deep recesses of my mind. An experience that left me so emotionally scarred that I felt borderline home-bound for days, fearful of reentry into society. This is the story of the night my children terrorized Chick-fil-a.

It's a Saturday evening sometime in September, 2011. My dear, sweet husband is attending a conference for the weekend, which means that I am single-mothering it with a three-year-old, a two-year-old, and a three-month-old. Every mom out there knows how it feels to get to Friday, that glorious, heaven-sent Friday, knowing that the weekend is upon you, Daddy will be home to tag team baby duty, and you can get some semblance of rest and recuperation. You also know how it feels to have a disruption in the routine, a weekend when Daddy is away. I am not diminishing the importance of our hubbies getting away every now and then, but neither am I diminishing the stress it puts on us as moms to move from one week into the next without a break.

This particular weekend had been rather crazy in our house.  Brandon left for his conference early on Saturday morning while I ran around like a crazy lady, dressing and feeding the kids and packing them up to drop off at my mother's house so that I could go throw a baby shower. It's always fun to start Saturday morning in hose and heels, right? There was even a minor squabble with my husband as I had to call him one minute after his class started to ask if he had my car keys, which was apparently a very inconvenient interruption. Can't leave home without the keys. To throw a baby shower. That I am in charge of. Yet he was the irritated one. Hmmmmmm...

At any rate, after a crazy, non-stop day, it's now dinner time and I find myself without an ounce of energy in me to prepare a meal for my kids. No problem, because there's always Chick-fil-a!  How can one go wrong with chicken nuggets and "lemolade?" 

I load my kids into the minivan (have I mentioned yet that it's blue, awesome, dented on one side, and missing a hubcap on the other...kind of a representation of the current state of my life), and off we head to devour some fried chicken goodness. We arrive at Chick-fil-a, and I begin the process of unloading all three children, including the baby in his infant carrier, and getting everyone into the restaurant. I order dinner, get everyone situated, and settle in for an easy, yummy dinner (insert foreboding, evil laughter here).

Immediately, after one chicken nugget, both of my older children announce that they are no longer hungry and that they want to get down and go play. The same children who were "starving" just moments before, crying and weeping over the three-minute wait for our dinner. This is a universal parenting phenomenon, is it not? At any rate, I allow them to go play because, if for no other reason, I can have a few moments of peace, and honestly, what do I care if they eat cold nuggets later?  

While I watch my children play in the glassed-in monkey cage playground, I decide to go ahead and feed my newborn his bottle, and for a few moments all is at rest. The kids play, the baby eats, and I zone out, probably with a small stream of drool dribbling from my mouth as exhaustion sets in. 

Then I feel it. Warmth.

And I smell it. That unmistakeable smell. Baby poop.

It appears that the baby is so enjoying his bottle that he decides to fill his diaper to make room for more milk in his precious little belly. And fill it he does. His proverbial cup runneth over.  

I lift him up to find that he is covered in runny, nasty baby poop, and so is the front of the dress that I am still wearing from the baby shower I hosted earlier in the day. My heart sinks, but I refuse to panic. I look around for the diaper bag, quickly realizing that I left it in the car.  Of course I did.

I debate grabbing the kids out of the play area, but that will just add to the chaos, so I ask this random woman sitting next to me if she would mind making sure my children don't escape the restaurant while I run out to the car to get the diaper bag. She says she will, so I grab the baby and run out to the car to get clean-up supplies for this poop situation. I run back into the restaurant and brazenly ask the unassuming woman if she would mind helping me once more, keeping an eye on the children while I run to the bathroom to clean the baby and myself up. She agrees, this time a little more warily, but I hear a "yes" and I take it.

In the restroom I strip the baby down to nothing, wash him off, and diaper him. He has no other clothes, so we have no choice but to go redneck style here - diaper only. I try rinsing the green poop out of my dress, but with little success I give up and head back out to get the big kids and head home.

It's about this time, as I am exiting the restroom and headed back to my table, that the poor, random woman comes walking toward me with my three-year-old daughter in tow. "Um, Ma'am, she says she had an accident."

Me: "What kind of accident?"

Random Lady: "She says she wet her pants."

With one look this becomes painfully apparent as I see her shorts soaked through and still dripping. 

This. Is. Not. Happening.

I ask her, "Sweetie, what happened? When did you tinkle in your pants?" To which she replies, "I couldn't hold it, so I tinkled up at the tippity-top of the playground." Yes, that would be the same playground that is currently overrun with at least a dozen children.

About now is when the angel and demon both came out to play. The demon on one shoulder tells me to grab my kids and get the heck outta dodge, leaving before anyone can realize what has happened. The angel tells me that, no, I must do the right thing and report this to the authorities.  Darn angel.

I tentatively walk up to the counter where two teenage girls are talking working, and I say as quickly as I can, "I'm so sorry but my daughter just peed in the playground!" Both girls stop talking and stare at me for a moment, I'm sure processing what I just said. The looks on their faces were priceless, and I wish I could've taken a snapshot to enjoy later. Then girl A turns to girl B and says, "well, I'm sure as -BLEEP- not cleaning it up!" The other girl looks embarrassed by her coworker's behavior, and tells me not to worry, that they will take care of it. I apologize profusely, and then go to gather my remaining child, my two-year-old son, off of the playground so we can leave.

On the way into the play area, I stop and put the baby back in his carrier, sans clothing, and leave him out on our table. He hates his carrier. He screams. Whatever.

I enter the playground and call to my son, "Sutton, it's time to come down and go home!" As I am hollering, in behind me walk two employees, one with a sign she is taping to the door that reads, "PLAYGROUND CLOSED DUE TO CONTAMINATION." The other employee shouts out the door to all parents in the area, "parents, please clear your children out of the play place; we must close it due to a child having desecrated the area with her urine."  

Okay, she doesn't say that exactly.  But she does tell them to get their kids out and that the playground is now closed for the night because my kid has peed up at the "tippity top."

Parents rush in to get their children. A little girl comes down the slide to her mother, and her mother screams in horror, "Oh, honey, you're covered in URINE!" I felt like telling her to calm down, that at least it's sterile. However, I think that offering that unsolicited advice might earn me some slashed tires, so I use self control.

I continue to call my own son down from the top, and after a moment or two I find that I am the only parent left, the only parent with a child that refuses to obey. He has decided that this is the moment to wage war against his mother. He. Is. Not. Budging. 

I start threatening the pain that will soon be inflicted on his rear end if he doesn't choose obedience, a threat at which he laughs. Again I call him down. Again he says no.

My daughter is now crying at my side because her shorts are wet and she's cold. The baby is still crying on the other side of the glass in his infant carrier. People are staring. And a two-year-old is holding me hostage.

So I do what any other fed up mother would do in a dire situation. I kick off my heels and I start to climb. Up the spiral staircase. Through the tunnel. Up the net. To the very "tipity top" where my son is cowered in the corner, quickly realizing the fate that awaits him. I grab him and hurl us both down the twirly slide which shoots us out onto the ground below. I grab our shoes and march all three of us out to get the neglected baby, who at this point is out-of-control crying while a "new" random lady rocks his infant seat in hopes of calming him down.

Feeling the burn of people's glares, I do that evil-whisper, the I-sound-possessed type thing us moms do, telling my children to get their daggum shoes on and to stop fussing. As I bend down to help my son velcro his shoes, my daughter stands up and picks up her chocolate milk off our table. She turns around and instantly drops it, and as the almost-full bottle of chocolate milk hits the ground, it explodes onto every single table and person in the general vicinity. There are very few ways you can drop a bottle of milk to make it explode up and out like that. She does it right.

Lord, beer me patience (if you don't watch The Office, disregard this line).

With all three in tears, and baby carrier in hand, I march back up to the counter, this time beyond caring what they think, to let them know that we now have a "slight" problem near our table, a milk explosion of sorts. The girls just stare at me. I stare back.

My two-year-old decides to tell me at this moment that he feels like he needs ice cream. This coming from the kid who made me scale what felt like Mt. Everest in my church dress. That is a gutsy request if you ask me. And since he does ask me, I answer him.  "No."  And not only no...

Well, he doesn't like that answer much, so he lies down on the floor in the middle of the line of customers waiting to order and starts pitching the world's loudest and ugliest temper tantrum. He is so out of control that I am unable to deal with him, seeing as how I am carrying an infant carrier in one hand and dragging my blubbering three-year-old with the other. So I decide to join in, and I start to cry, too.  If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right?

At that moment, the Lord intervenes and an angel disguised as a Chick-fil-a employee has compassion for me. He comes around the counter and scoops up my son, offering to carry him to the car for me. I smile at him through my tears and together we somehow get everyone safely to the car and physically restrained.

I climb into the driver's seat with poop still smeared on the front of me, a cold, crying daughter behind me, and a two-year-old still asking for ice cream next to her. The baby has conked out at this point, too traumatized to stay away I'm sure. 

It takes everything in me not to curl up in fetal position and start the shut-down sequence. I pull out and start the drive back home, listening to a chorus of "I'm hungry's" and "I'm cold's," thinking, "well, golly gee whiz, I'm just dandy right now, so thanks for sharing." 

I pull into the driveway to find my husband's car parked there. He is home. Oh, boy, is he gonna be sorry that he's home. I march the kids to the front door, ring the doorbell, and as he answers I shove our precious angels at him, announcing that he's "on." I dare him to contradict me as I stare him down. He sees the pure fury in my eyes and doesn't say a word; he simply takes the children, ushers them to the bathtub, and knows well enough to steer them clear of me for the remainder of the century night.

Later that night, after I have had a few glasses of wine hours to cool down, he sits down across from me. 

"What happened?" he asked.

"You don't want to know," I reply.

"Yes, I really do," says my superhero husband.

After unloading the ugly details on him (while he tries to hold in his laughter), I sigh and say, "I just wish we had normal children. Not the kind of children that act out. Not the kind of children that speak their minds. Not stubborn-as-mules kids. No, the kind of children that are seen and not heard, that are EASY."

In that very moment, I hear the Holy Spirit speak to the innermost parts of me.

"No, you don't."

And He is right.

You see, if I am honest with myself, I don't want robotic children who make parenting super-easy while at the same time sucking the joy out of the very life we are trying to build.

I don't want quiet, subservient children that are seen and not heard, that are afraid to be themselves and to stand apart from the crowd.

I don't want to raise human beings with no fight in them, who aren't willing to dig in their heels for something they really believe in and duke it out to the end. I want them to be stubborn for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of truth, and for the sake of what and Who they believe in.

I could have done without the stubbornness at the "tippity top" of the slide from my son, but hey, you win some and lose some, right?

And honestly, even though the experience we had a Chick-fil-a that long-ago evening was horrific (and it really was), looking back I wouldn't trade that amazing, no-one-will-believe-this string of events for anything in this world, because through it the Lord allowed me to realize that I am no different from my kids.

No. Different.

I mess up, and when the you-know-what hits the fan, the first person it usually hits is my Savior. I am really good at allowing my sin, my nastiness, to taint people's perception of who He is. I mess up, it's obvious, and unfortunately I can make Him look pretty bad.

I am also stubborn. He calls me down from a place that I am not supposed to be, and instead of listening and obeying, I dig in my heels and refuse to come down. He is good enough to climb to my rescue, not leaving me there to fend for myself, but in my disobedience I reap consequences that He never desired for me to deal with.

I throw temper tantrums when I don't get ice cream. Okay, maybe not ice cream, but I have been known to pitch a fit when my comforts are not catered to. When I am inconvenienced. When the answer He gives to a prayer is not the answer I wanted. I am as spoiled as my son appeared to be that night at Chick-fil-a.

And yet He made me, and you, this way. He made us with wills and with dreams and with tempers and with stubborn streaks when he could have made us robotic, unfeeling worshippers.  Why did He do this? 

Because there's just about nothing worse than a manufactured relationship with the ones you love. What good is it to love another if you don't see them for who they really are, even if it means you're forced to see the worst in them? I believe this is how the Lord feels about us. He wants us to be free to be ourselves as we learn and grown in our walks with Him, and as we learn more and more what it looks like to live and love like Jesus. It's because of the gift of the cross that we have this freedom. No more rules. No more rigidity.

This is the same thing I want for my children. No facade of perfection is going to give us depth in our relationships with one another. Just because it's easy doesn't mean it's worth it. And because I love my children, I need moments like the one at Chick-fil-a.

One of my favorite sections of Scripture supports this argument, and it's found in Galatians 2:
 "Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan.
What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily."

Lord, may I be identified completely with you, with an ego that is crushed under the weight of your gift of grace. May I learn to live in relationship with you, real relationship, and not hide under the facade of perfection. And may the same be so for my children.

Lastly, I would like to point out, unrelated to the spiritual content above, that Chick-fil-a has a fascinating rule I'd love to fill you in on! Did you know that if you ever tell any Chick-fil-a corporate employee, store operator, or store manager that you had a less-than-desireable experience in one of their restaurants, they are required to give you coupons for free food?  I'm just saying, and helping some sisters out...

Feel free to laugh!

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Grocery Store Curse...Thank you, Eve.

I believe the Word of God is infallible. It is inspired. It is a literary masterpiece. However, back in the beginning of the book of Genesis, shortly after Adam and Eve seriously jacked up our futures by eating that forbidden fruit, I am pretty sure God left out a section that read something like this:

"To the woman he said, 'I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. [ADDITION] And you shall forever be subject to taking said children grocery shopping with you, and it shall be a terrible plight each and every time. Also, you shall never again pee alone.'"
GENESIS 3:16a through the part I just made up

Now, forgive me if I sound flippant with Scripture, but anyone who has been a mom for more than fives minutes knows what I am talking about, and has silently cussed thanked Eve under her breath more than once while trolling the aisles of Publix with a long grocery list and and a child who suddenly feels the need to engage in a deep meaning-of-life-type question-and-answer session, intermixed with the loud, "can we get that's?!?!"

My three children are all under six, and I am being very serious when I say that nothing reminds me of my need for Jesus' help in parenting more than a trip to the grocery store. It really does seem like the worst comes out in everyone - parents and children alike - during this never-ending task.

I have to say, I often feel set up to fail before I even step foot inside the store. Oh, everyone is happy and cooperative on the car ride there. Usually the first sign of distress is as we exit our awesome blue minivan that is missing a hubcap, when I ask my children to hold hands as we play Frogger through the parking lot. At some point between the van and the sidewalk, at least one of my children decides that they are too big to hold hands, and it appears they think that the best solution to their problem is to go limp, making it impossible for anyone to hold their hands lest they fall to the asphalt as well. This is usually where spanking number one is tallied and tucked away for after the store.  

Once we get everyone into the store, my children make a beeline to the race car. You know, the double-seater cart that has pretend steering wheels and more germs than a toilet seat at the airport. Enter dilemma number two: which ones of my three children will have the distinct pleasure of sitting in the torture device race car, and which one will walk. An argument typically ensues depending on who does or doesn't want to ride that day, who got to ride "last time," and who is a "big kid" who doesn't need to ride in a cart anymore.  

Once I get everyone duct-taped strapped in, I tentatively enter the store through the automatic sliding doors. Our favorite check-out lady, Tina, sees me and starts laughing immediately, probably sensing the chaos that is going to ensue as the Watts family takes over Publix. The first stop: the bakery. Oh, the joy a free, dried-out cookie can stir up in the heart of a child. Now, every mother knows that you have a grocery list either mentally or physically prepared, and that the moment those cookies enter the hands of your children an imaginary timer starts ticking on the portion of your shopping experience that can be done in silence and peace. The younger the kids are, the longer the cookie lasts, providing a calmer, more orderly grocery run. The older the kid is, the faster he eats, and the faster Mom goes from "I can actually hear myself think" to the overwhelming temptation to "ABORT MISSION!  ABORT MISSION!"

With cookies in hand, the expedition begins, and for a few moments everything is as it should be. Then inevitably the child who is supposed to be trailing behind me ends up in front of the cart to "help" by pulling it, then stops suddenly causing me to ram the cart right into her Achilles tendon. Cue the waterworks. I begin to apologize repeatedly, with my five-year-old daughter giving me the death stare for hurting her, even though she was the one who walked in front of the cart to begin with. She now climbs in the cart and switches places with my son because her leg hurts, and he walks with me.

We make a stop at the deli counter, where I order two sub sandwiches that take 15 - yes, that's FIFTEEN - minutes to prepare. I almost think I should double-check to see if they are custom-butchering the meat or something. With the cookies long since devoured, the kids are already asking when we're leaving. My five-year-old doesn't want my two-year old touching "her" steering wheel, and, ironically, in that very moment it is all my two-year-old want to do. The race car seat is not a happy place. While this is transpiring, my four-year-old son is smearing his hands along the glass deli case, leaving trails of cookie grease and who-knows-what-else. The sandwich-maker man looks rather perturbed that I am having to parent my children, which one would think would make him work slightly faster, but no. The line is growing behind me as a hungry crowd of lunch-goers wait for their turn to buy a mediocre, over-priced sandwich. Just as Mr. Sandwich Man is handing me my subs, my son comes behind me and lifts my sundress with both hands, exposing my bare, pasty-white rear end with ratty, torn navy blue thong underwear, and let's not forget the baseball-sized black bruise on my left butt cheek from the antibiotic shot I received days before to treat me for strep throat (that my kids gave me). And, for the record, let me say that my hind quarters are *slightly* larger after having kids. I hear laughter filter through the crowd of people behind me, but at this point in my life someone seeing my hind end is the least of my concerns, so  I move on fairly unfazed.

Moving along, we get to the juice aisle, the aisle created by some kind of parent-hating genius. Not only are there multicolored bottles of fun-looking juice, and juice boxes packaged in Pixar-character print, but there are swirly straws and reusable drink containers hanging every five feet, right at eye-level with my children. The "Mommy, can we's" start before I can even turn that fateful corner. "Oh, Mommy, puh-leeeeeaaaase can I get a new Princess cup? I never had one like that before!" "Mom, look, a Darth Fadah cup with a Light-saver straw! Please, please, please, please can I get it?" Even the baby gets in on the action, grunting "uhhhhhhhh" while pointed at cheaply-made, dishwasher-unsafe cups that wouldn't last a day in my house. After a long string of "no, no, no's" and "don't ask me again's," on we go.  

At this point I feel the need to step up my game to get this job over and done with, so our walk becomes brisker and my patience runs admittedly thinner. As does my children's patience. They go from wanting fun kid stuff to just wanting everything they see for the sake of buying something, anything to meet their shopping-addiction needs. Pretty soon they are wanting Gladware and toilet paper, begging for the new floral design, or maybe a bottle of olive oil. About this time, my son reaches his hand out of the cart just in time to make contact with a large display of paper towels, bringing down the pyramid with a single touch.  Can anyone page for a clean up on aisle 10? While frantically trying to gather the millions of rolls of paper towels, my daughter decides that she wants to "help" me by pushing the cart out of the way. Push, she does, and right into the large wooden crate of wine bottles. I'll let you guess what happens from there.

I finally look up from our disaster zone to find a multitude of people staring at me. Some with pity in their eyes, others with disgust. And, of course, the one old lady who feels the need to tell me in this moment to "enjoy every single minute with those precious little ones." To which I offer her a cheers and start chugging from the broken, half-empty bottle of wine on the floor because it's no use crying over spilled wine. Just kidding - I go to a Baptist church and I don't drink. Right...  

At this point, I know that I just have to push through to the end of our excursion, which is in sight. No matter if everyone is crying, no matter if my children are annihilating each other, no matter if people look at me like I am the worst mother in the history of all mothers. Because people gotta eat. So we go. I stop for no man. Or child. My children see it in my eyes that I am not to be toyed with, and they are brought to (momentary) silence. We grab the last of our produce and whip back around toward the registers. Amazingly, with 19 registers lining the front of the store, two are open. One is for hoarders like me, the other for 20 items or less.  And even though her line is empty, I see it in her eyes: the 20-items-or-less lady ain't gonna budge and let me through because I am over the limit. Her head shakes slightly. I sigh and get in the four-person-long line at the other register.  

As we finally approach the cashier, the begging for gum and candy begins. "Mom, you NEVER let us get gum. Puh-leeeaseeee?" "Mom, please can I have M&Ms? But, Mom, I asked POLITELY!" It's at about this time that I tune myself out and go to my happy place. In this case, my happy place is aboard a luxury 50-foot catamaran in the British Virgin Islands, where I will be escaping to heading in a mere two weeks (on an expenses-paid trip, nonetheless, proving beyond any doubt I might ever have that there is, in fact, a very real God who loves me dearly). I can almost hear the waves crashing against the boat now...

We get to the register and the man checking us out is very friendly and talkative. He is also extremely effeminate in both the way he sounds and in his mannerisms. So, just to make a fun morning that much better, I guess, my inquisitive four-year-old son feels the need to ask him, "Hey, man, why do you talk like such a girl?" Which is a good question. But bad timing.  

At this point I am just exhausted, so I can't even pretend that it didn't happen. I just muttered a "sorry" and waited on him to finish ringing me up. I don't even flinch at the total, because the emotional toll this trip has taken on me is far more severe than even the current cost of groceries, and I swipe my Amex to be done for good with this experience. As I put my credit card away, my four-year-old presses the red "cancel" button. So I, in my most calm and calculated tone, ask him not to touch the machine again, and I take my credit card out once more, swiping it while doling out a spanking-in-the-van to my daughter who has just swatted the baby. Again, while I put my card away, my son presses the cancel button. Seriously?! The cashier doesn't even attempt to hide his grin, somewhat deservedly. The 80-something lady in line behind me, who resembles John Rivers (if you live in Atlanta, you see know what I am talking about - there are old-lady Joan Rivers lookalikes all over town) looks disapprovingly at me, tsk-ing under her breath, probably something about "kids these days." My son is awarded consequence #2, and after receiving the "mom look" from me doesn't dare move while I run my card for the third time, finally paying for the food that has probably gone bad by now.

In a display of confidence-bordering-on-embarrassment, I pick up my son, grab the cart, and head out of the store, unable to look behind me for fear of the round of applause that has probably erupted upon our leaving.  

We get to the van, get everyone unloaded, spanked, and into their rightful car seats, and I load the groceries haphazardly into the trunk, because at this point what are broken eggs after my spirit has been crushed. Okay, that might be a little dramatic...eggs are almost $2/dozen now, so even with a crushed spirit I take special care of my eggs and they get to ride in the front seat. I return the cart to the cart corral, which is always, I repeat ALWAYS, as far from my car as it can get. I climb in the car to a symphony of tears, "I'm hot's," and "can we go to Chickfila's?" I sit. I breathe. I hear the waves and the steel drums. I taste the coconut. And I am still.

This might sound a bit dramatic, but I assure you that every single thing I've written about has actually happened to me. Every. Single. Thing.

This also might sound like I have hellions for children. I do not. But they are CHILDREN. All of us act out at times; kids just have a knack for all acting out at the same time. They are darling, precious, loving, and kind children. But they are also little sinners.

Lastly, this might sound like I am a depressed soul who caves under the pressure of motherhood.  This could not be further from the truth (thank you Lord, and thank you Prozac). However, I feel the need to encourage other mothers out there that they are not, as they might think, crazy, that yes, these things do happen in other families and to other moms, and that no, they are not alone. And not every moment of motherhood is FUN. The pressure to be supermom, to have perfectly-behaved, perfectly-mannered children, and to soak in every precious moment of motherhood is enormous. But that is not reality. It's merely a facade, and when we play the game of appearing perfect for the approval of others, we become fatigued, overwhelmed, and discouraged.  

Motherhood is not easy; it's not meant to be. But it is refining. I mean, what is more refining than having to respond with grace when your son lifts up your sundress for the world to see your cellulite-covered behind?  

Motherhood is a calling, and we have to remember the big picture. We are trying to raise up tiny humans into grown, responsible adults that love and pursue Jesus. This takes time. This takes mistakes. This takes energy. It takes perseverance. It takes dying to ourselves day in and day out, submitting and resubmitting our will to our Heavenly Father. It takes losing what we think we need in order to gain what He KNOWS we need. I love how Philippians 3:8-15 describes it:

"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you."

I pray that, through the "grocery store" experiences in my life, I press on toward the goal, and for the prize, which is the call of God in Christ. I pray that I truly do count everything as loss, including my agenda, my desire for perfection, and my pride, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him. I pray that I don't miss the opportunities for refinement that he extends to me, and that I will not be blinded by my frustration and self-entitlement. I pray that I see Him in every single tedious, monotonous, exhausting moment that threatens to overtake me. Because He is there. And He is working.

Lastly, as I leave you today, my friend, I would be remiss to post this without offering up a few self-proclaimed genius ideas from an everyday mom for my friends at Publix, and all of the other grocery stores around the world.  These ideas are yours for the taking, and you're welcome:

1. Any mom worth her salt knows that the only way to survive a grocery run with kids is the coveted cookie. That sugary, delicious treat that kids start asking about upon the mention of the grocery store. If possible, can you have cookie stands at the beginning, midpoint, and end point of every aisle in the grocery store? Refill stations, if you will. Rations. If their mouths are full, they are unusually quiet - I'm just saying.  Don't tell Michelle Obama I said that.

2. Carts that look like this, with duct tape supplied on an as needed basis.  Trust me, this would be to your benefit:

Feel free to laugh!

P.S. If the mention of Prozac in a joking manner offends you, can I just ask you, from a heart full of the love and grace of Jesus, to relax?  I am not making fun of mental illness.  I suffer from it.  Life is hard.  Prozac helps.  And I'm okay with that.  It's not an off-limits topic for me.