Hard Stories: Being Selfish

I was torn.  Little bit kept wavering on whether she’d stay at the main house or the bayou house, and the baby was wailing because of an injured ankle.  I started the car, it was already late because we had so many fireworks to pop, and tried to load the boys.

Little bit said she would stay with her grandparents, and the remaining four of us set off across the pasture.  The car parked at the back door with me still in a quandary over whether to stay with the boys or go back to the main house.

I got the baby settled in a chair with a wash cloth and icepack and decided to head back.  The boys were tearful and asked me to stay.  I said I’d come back if little bit was still dressed.

I drove back across the pasture with my headlights full of bugs in the dark night and lugged my bag into the main house.  Little bit was happy as a clam in her p.j.s “making her beauty” with grandmother, her pink blanket already settled in between her grandparents pillows.

She brushed her teeth and told me she would stay in their room.  I decided to stay put, and I washed my face and laid down in the guest room, alone.

And cried.

I didn’t stay where I was most needed mainly because I was angry at my husband.  As the night had worn on, we had a silly argument, and I could tell he was angry at how I responded.  I started the fireworks with the kids before he came out, and we didn’t interact for the rest of the evening.  I wasn’t particularly interested in staying with him.

Had we been home, we’d have gone to sleep in the same room, maybe angry, but we’d have slept in the same bed.  Yet here I had an out.  Another house and a paper thin excuse that the one child with two adults might need me specifically.

The baby with the injury and the eldest with his pleading, and even my husband who had taken my bags to the other house earlier, were the ones who really wanted me with them.  And I left for selfish reasons.

I had also had three glasses of wine over the course of the evening, and I can make foolish decisions when my brain is fuzzy instead of fueled with the clarity of action my faith requires me to take.

I had also shared a story with my mother-in-law about the first time I saw my father after the divorce, quite sometime as the case was and in less than ideal circumstances, and I had never spoken the story out loud before, not even to my husband.  I somehow managed to feel the wounds fresh on my heart all these years later.

I can still be selfish.  I can still be foolish.  I can still be wounded.

It was not an irreparable action.  Yet those selfish, foolish, wounded-fueled decisions in marriage and parenting can add up if you don’t watch it.  It becomes all too easy to write off the instance as “a one-off” and not ask for forgiveness and determine to do better the next time.  Then those costly one-offs add up to more distance and more damage.

There is hope.  In the midst of the I can be’s… (add your own laundry list of less-than adjectives).

I can do all this through Christ who gives me strengthPhil. 4:13

So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.  And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.  Romans 11:5-6

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ JesusPhil. 1:6

There is grace for a new day.  So I can be forgiven.  I can start anew.  I can do it better.  I can be selfless, and wise, and healed.

 

This week is about the hard stories.  The ones I’m not particularly happy to share.  But if we don’t start talking about the hard stories, how we will find our way to the other side?

Hard Stories: Angry Kids

I’ve struggled the past year with a particular aspect of parenting one of my children.  I haven’t ever written about it because I’m not sure I have any solutions and there’s a degree of shame parents experience with the hard issues.

Then, over the past weeks, I have encountered mom after mom who is experiencing the same struggle.

It never fails to surprise me because I never read about it.  No one ever really talks about it.  But because I’ve begun to open up about my struggles, out of desperation maybe more than anything, I begin to hear the exact same story repeated back to me.

The child’s age and gender varies.  The stories come from moms parenting boys and girls alike.  The children’s ages range from three on into the teen years.  Which makes this a struggle some moms have just begun to get a handle on and some moms have spent years honing their responses.

This is the story about the worry and confusion and guilt and frustration when trying to parent an angry kid.

These stories, including my own, are not about a child with a temper.  We’ve seen that.  We know the solution there.  The truth is, I was a nanny and babysitter and church nursery provider for years and never saw it.  I now realize those kids may have had the same struggle as my baby does, but you don’t often see it in public.  At least, in our case, you rarely see it in public.  We’ve had a couple of very explosive experiences, once with our pediatrician, but apart from that they happen at home.

All the moms I talk to know it happens at home “because they feel most comfortable with you,” as well as all those other things people say to make you feel encouraged about the hurricane that hits, but it’s not helpful.

For a while, we were convinced it was the work of asthma medicine causing our son’s outbreaks, and we had the studies to back it up.  After months of natural allergy treatments, we were able to back him off all asthma medicine (his is ultimately a minor case), and he hasn’t had any asthma treatments for over a year.  There was a pause, but still the explosions come.

For the moms who have multiple children, and most of the moms I’ve talked to do have other children without this same issue, the situation can wreck an evening at home trying to parent all the children and get things accomplished.

There is no ideal reaction when the meltdown occurs.  Reason never works.  Anger in response doesn’t work and, if anything, it fuels the reaction to greater heights.  Removal of the child during an episode is challenging, because you can never get him to stay where you want him, and trying to move him, when the anger fuels an incredible strength, can be nearly impossible.

The other children lose the attention they were receiving from their parents.  Often everyone loses a privilege or experience because you can’t reward the angry child.

What have other moms done?  There have been assorted therapy sessions which I wish moms would talk about more because sharing could help tremendously, but it still seems to be the dirty little secret of parenting.  Like it’s somehow admitting failure.  I’ve heard about family sessions and individual sessions and play therapy and a number of options.  We tried therapy a couple of times, but with other children involved in the session the behavior didn’t come out (and it’s an expensive option when you’re not getting closer to a solution).  Some moms do try to remove the child to their room, and have had more success, and keep them away from the rest of the family so the anger outbreak is less disruptive.  Those moms recommend talking about what happens in the child’s head when the child is calm but not to try reasoning when the episode is happening.

From my experience, and talking with other moms, we generally cannot find a consistent trigger.  One day it could be complimenting another child leads to a complete disruption while another day it could be exhaustion and another it could be losing a privilege because of an initial act of disobedience.

For me, it is not a daily experience and therefore even hard to predict.  Most moms seem to have the experience I do with their angry child also being incredibly loving, giving, sensitive, and prone to heartbreak.  These are kids whose nerves are right there on the surface.  We mommas are in love with these precious ones.  We are also at a loss for how to keep the anger from swallowing up our family on the hard days.

This week is about the hard stories.  The ones I’m not particularly happy to share.  But if we don’t start talking about the hard stories, how we will find our way to the other side?

What Are You Doing This Summer?

I’m off to D.C., hobbling as I go, though my knee is much improved.

And I’m curious friends, what are you up to this summer?  Where are you going?

If you’re in Houston, what’s your favorite activity – as a couple or with kids?

We just wrapped up swim team this week.  Little bit was the only five year old that made it to finals!  I am so proud of her but the boys, especially the baby, were less than good sports about it.  Mercy this is a competitive house.  We had the final team party on Sunday and she won a medal as well as the little team trophy – the boys ribbon paled in comparison to her proud medal worn around her neck.

We’re just now starting to schedule play dates for July.  Vacation has passed and the kids are starting to get on each other’s nerves.  The boys are starting to play more “boy games” that little bit is less interested in and she went to bed crying last night that she didn’t have a girl who lived at the house to be her girl buddy.  So sad.  They really do all play together but inevitable one ends up on the outs.  While we’re playing with friends from the old school, I’m hoping to set up some play dates with new school kids too so it’s not brand new faces when they start in August.

We saw Inside Out this weekend at the movie theatre and it was wonderful!  Great for kids and adults and it helps start conversations about the emotions that are sometimes hard for kids to understand.  We were invited to a law firm’s big family event in a few weeks to see Minions and have breakfast and fun and a rented out theatre – that’s a big hit each summer.

We rotate the Science Museum (Houston’s is wonderful), Children’s Museum and occasionally throw in the zoo and Aquarium but we’re not members there so it’s pricier for us.  Maria takes the kids to the park, splash pads, and jumpy places during the week.  She also takes them to the $1 Wednesday kid movies Cinemark puts on.  We swim at our pool every day and my mom, the retired teacher, comes over and does reading comprehension, math, and spelling a couple of times a week to keep their new skills fresh in their mind.

I take the baby on a weekend trip to Alabama in a month, it’s his turn as I rotate each kid on a solo flight with me to a different destination each year.

So how about you?  How do you pass the summer?  What do you cook?  What do you do?  I’m a sponge always looking for ways to break the monotony and keep things fun without the stress of running ninety-to-nothing.

Vincent Vacation, Characters from the Road

The eldest is seriously outgoing.  We forget this in our day to day life, but take this child on a road trip and he will meet the entire state.  He has a career in politics.  Or ministry.  And once he’s begun the questioning of the unsuspecting person we encounter, all three launch in.

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Meet Miss Loretta:  Loretta was in the Marriott Timber Lodge hot tub in Lake Tahoe our last night on vacation.  She was there celebrating her 87th birthday with her two daughters in their 60s.  They’re from Reno and have a condo near the airport.  She has family in Katy, Texas.  She now knows our Pre-K 4 teacher also has a home in Katy, Texas.

I had to keep pulling the kids back to the hot tub bench so they didn’t end up in Miss Loretta’s lap.

Meet Little Rosie:  Rosie is also 5.  Her birthday was in January.  She and her mother, originally from England, were visiting Houston and had the great fortune of riding in the row in front of my little man on the flight up to Reno.  They were returning home.  Rosie is also looking forward to starting kindergarten in the fall.

Meet Miss Beth:  Beth was stuck in Reno with us during a flight delay.  She is from Iowa and was in Reno for vacation visiting her grandson, also five, and granddaughter, ten.  She doesn’t get to see them very often.  She let the kids playing gambling games on her tablet (lordy).  The eldest inquired in Denver if we could call Miss Beth to see if she found her plane.  I told him I didn’t have her number, and he got incredibly concerned because how would we go visit her in Iowa without her contact information.

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Meet Pilot Gabe:   Captain William generously gave up his pilot’s seat as we boarded the plane so all three kids could enter the cockpit.  Pilot Gabe is very knowledgeable about all of the gadgets and gears on the airplane which was fortunate given the intense questioning he underwent at the hands of the eldest.  Alas, we don’t know where Pilot Gabe is from because mommy had to pull the interrogator out of the cockpit so everyone could board.

There were other’s stories we glimpsed on our journey.

On our last night by Yosemite, we had dinner in Mariposa (the closest town to our house).  Afterwards, we went to an amazing ice cream shop for treats.  The shop is run by sisters.  One sister, who looks remarkably like our next door neighbor, kindly dipped out everyone’s ice cream order, while the other sister worked out logistics for her daughter with her ex.  She fixed him a milkshake to go and he had their daughter for the night.  She asked if she could have their daughter Friday night for a family graduation.  He agreed but said the girl had to spend the night with him Friday night because they were leaving town on Saturday.  The mother sighed when she remarked the graduation didn’t start til 8 pm.  She hugged her girl goodbye and stood sadly at the front window as her girl and past man drove away.

Some of you know my story.  My parents divorced, in an ugly and public way, at the end of my seventh grade year.  I didn’t see my dad for three years.  Witnessing these hard stories up close still rips me to pieces.  I have friends and family who have gone through this heartache, and I know from first hand experience the challenges single parents face.  I stopped right there and began to pray.  For the business to thrive.  For each of the people involved in the breaking to heal and to know God’s love.  For them to feel peace and comfort and strength and restoration.

Driving off, I looked at Bray and said, please, no matter what happens, let’s not let that happen to us.

I know you can’t predict what happens.  Really I do.  I’m sure my preacher’s kid mother never dreamed her marriage would end after 17 years while married to a preacher herself.  But I have to tell you, I want to do everything in my power to work through whatever faces us so I don’t end up at a front window watching my kids drive away.

And if you’re going solo right now, I can tell you God does crazy stuff.  He makes provision in the hard times.  (We had Thanksgiving dinner show up one year on our doorstep and another year money for new school clothes show up in the mail…)  He heals.  He restores relationships.

That’s it from the road.  Thanks for bearing with my walk down memory lane.  This blog does a lot of things, but one of the things it does as serves as my memory for big family events.  I love having you on the ride with me.

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Vincent Vacation, The Grandeur and The Fear

Our introduction to Yosemite National Park was an early June afternoon at the northern Tioga Pass which only opens in late May because of snow.

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As soon as we passed through the park entrance gates, snow began to fall.  The kids have never seen snow since it’s not snowed in Houston since they were two months old.  We pulled over so they could catch a few flakes on their tongue.  The next day in the Valley it was 100 degrees.

Such is the grandeur and unpredictability of Yosemite.

El Capitan greeted us at first view when we drove in Sunday morning:

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We ate on the Merced beach across from El Capitan’s trail with the rain beginning to fall:

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We drove past the tiered Yosemite Falls on one side and Bridalveil Falls on the other:

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At the top of Tunnel View we could see most of the Valley spread before us – from Half Dome to the falls to El Capitan with glimpses of Cathedral Rock and Three Brothers:

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The wildness is breathtaking.  Spectacular.  Extraordinary.  It’s also a little bit terrifying.  The hairpin turns around mountain ranges with no rail or views beyond the next curve.  The warnings of roaming bears and coyotes.

Truth be told, I’ve been scared by a lot lately.  News reports are chilling.  Headlines from Nigeria to our backyard have set me on edge.

I was acutely aware of my growing fear in the wilderness.  I stood guard over the family picnicking by the Merced in case of a wandering bear (despite my husband’s chuckling that no person in recorded history has been killed by a bear in Yosemite).  I gripped the door handle and pressed my foot on the invisible passenger brakes as he slowly inched up the mountain’s edge.  I packed extra food and drinks in case of weather or misdirection.

Yet everything was beyond my control.

So much in my life is.  Funny, those are the things I worry about.

I shared what I began to see about my fear out there in the wild with a dear friend, and she wisely remarked, It sounds like you are afraid of the big.  But it’s in the bigness of God that we also find safety. 

Sigh.

Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain.
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eautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth,

like the heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King.
God is in her citadels; he has shown himself to be her fortress.
As we have heard, so we have seen

in the city of the Lord Almighty, in the city of our God:
God makes her secure forever Psalm 48

This wasn’t the vacation post I’d set out to write about the grandeur of Yosemite.  There are plenty of words to fill a page to share the beauty of each nook and cranny.  Not just the mountains and the waterfalls, but the flowers and the rocks and the dappled light through the trees.

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I would have done them all injustice, but I could have easily written that post.

But I wondered if maybe there’s not someone else struggling with fear over the big.  Fear which could easily take over even though it’s everything beyond our control.

I found tremendous peace in remembering the bigness of my God is the antidote to the bigness of my fear.  {==> Click to Tweet}

You see, the God of all this grandeur, isn’t about fear; this extraordinary God is about extraordinary love.  And as big and unpredictable as life, and my fears, are, He is bigger:

 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.  I Tim. 1:7

God is love… There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.  I John 4:7

He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day…
Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;
For He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you in all your ways.  Psalm 91

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I know it’s scary when we can’t see around the corner, but He can, and He’s there.