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In a year like no other, this fall was truly a season like no other. These past few months brought some wonderful moments for our family—among them a new job for Luke, the twins’ first birthday, a family trip, the purchase of a new car, fun holiday celebrations, and some great new homeschooling opportunities. This season was also marked by significant challenges—some outside our immediate family, and others closer to home: a fraught election season, deaths of loved ones, a family member’s health crisis, and my own mental breakdown will forever taint my memories of this landmark season.

As a card-carrying member of the human race, I am resistant to trials and hardship. But I find hope and peace in acknowledging their accompanying blessings of resilience, character-building, and wisdom. This fall was one massive growth opportunity, filled with lessons that I will carry on with me into whatever may lie ahead.

1) There is a limit to how long I can “be” Super Mom.

I was able to mostly keep it together for nearly six years of motherhood. And then, suddenly, I wasn’t. I can’t explain what happened (is happening) with my mind and my body; doctors haven’t been able to provide me with answers, though we all suspect 6+ consecutive years of being pregnant or breastfeeding may be partly to blame. (For those of you at home doing the math: I nursed Charleston for four years, got pregnant with the twins one week after he was weaned, and am still nursing them at 14 months. Needless to say my body has been through a lot.) All I know is that I am no longer working at full capacity, and that I am mentally and physically incapable of doing most things that seemed easy for me just months ago. Not every moment is hard, but each day remains a struggle, leaving me with no choice but to acknowledge my own human frailty, cut back on my responsibilities, and accept help and support from those who love me.

2) Anxiety and depression don’t always look one way.

I’ve struggled with mental health issues for most of my life, and it has never looked quite like this. Panic attacks are new territory for me, as is this level of numb-and-exhausted-but-not-sad depression. My current mental state has given me a newfound empathy for those whose mental illnesses impact their lives and their choices in ways that I don’t fully understand. I’m also starting to accept that there are some problems that can’t be understood, let alone solved, through sheer grit and introspection.

3) There is an unexpected relief that comes with passing a significant milestone.

This is a lesson I seem to cycle back to with great frequency, and I relearned it following the twins’ first birthday. As with so many of my kids’ biggest moments, I anticipated their turning one with sadness over what we were leaving behind and fear of what lay ahead. But I woke up the day after their birthday feeling relieved, grateful, and more excited than fearful about their next year. 

4) Solo parenting is really, really hard.

Luke started a new job in October. He’s still working from home, but the work itself looks different and involves a lot more meetings and closed-door time in the office than his previous position. While the job change was a long-awaited answer to prayer, it has required me to step up as the single available parent during his workdays. Managing the twins while homeschooling Charleston and chauffeuring him to his school activities is doable but challenging, and it’s enhanced my appreciation for those hours when Luke isn’t on the clock. To all you single parents out there—you are rock stars!

5) Parentless play dates are . . . different.

Charleston made friends with the little girl next-door, which is great, but it has also been a fast and furious introduction to kid playdates that don’t also double as mama play dates. We are suddenly navigating things like where and when the kids will play, for how long, and whether or not (and how) to discipline a child that isn’t mine. It’s a good problem to have as I’m thankful for a new friend, but I’m realizing that the seemingly small thing of kids playing tougher presents a lot of new factors to consider.

6) A ticket system works well for monitoring Charleston’s screen time.

For years, we’ve had a weekends-only policy with video games, television, and movies, and while we’ve kept to that boundary since the twins were born and throughout COVID Times, Charleston’s weekend screen time had gotten a little out of hand. A few months ago we introduced a new system in which Charleston gets a set number of tickets (usually twenty) at the start of each week. Each ticket is worth twenty minutes of a screen activity of his choice, redeemable on Saturday or Sunday, and he can lose tickets for negative behavior or earn extra tickets as we see fit. We’ve found this new routine keeps us all accountable for how much time Charleston is spending in front of the tv, and I like that it doubles as an easy rewards/consequence system. I’ve been impressed with how quickly Charleston has learned how to ration his tickets and use discernment with how to spend them.

7) I like being early to things.

I’ve been perpetually late to things my whole life. It’s an anomaly for my personality, and one of my least favorite qualities in myself, but I had come to accept it as an unavoidable quirk that I would never overcome. Enter motherhood and three young children who like to wake up early, and who require an unpredictable amount of time and preparation to get out the door. Throw in a new home that is twenty minutes from town, and I suddenly found myself needing to build in LOTS of extra prep time before leaving for an event. In trying to not be too late, I’ve inadvertently begun over-padding our prep time and showing up quite early to everything from Sports Day to church. . . and I’m loving it. I can see now why many people hate to be late, and I’m happy to have landed a spot in the Early Arrivers Club. It may be short-lived, but I’ll enjoy it while it lasts!

8) Keep an unassigned bookshelf. 

I tend to pack our bookshelves to the max, but last month I cleared off a whole shelf in Charleston’s room so that it would be available to hold library and seasonal books as well as our current chapter book and Children’s Bible. In the past, the library books have lived in a canvas tote, and our seasonal books and Bible were kept on a hard-to-reach shelf. Now that these books are accessible and at Charleston’s eye-level, he is reaching for them more often.

9) I can survive without a microwave.

Our built-in microwave died in November and we were without a replacement for a couple of weeks. I tend to rely heavily on our microwave for heating up leftovers and countless daily mugs of tea, so I was a little proud of myself for making do with what we had. We discovered that leftovers and frozen foods taste much better when reheated in the oven, and that an electric kettle is a tea-lover’s best friend. We love our new microwave but it’s good to know that I don’t really need it.

10) Slow and steady homeschooling is the way to go. 

Back in August, Charleston and I dove head-first into our Kindergarten curriculum. Things were going fine at first, but when I realized we were on track to finish the whole year’s worth of material by Christmas, I decided we could afford to slow down a bit. Ironically, we are spending more time on school work these days as we are taking our time with the lessons, but I feel good about the decision to prioritize mastery over rapid completion. 

11) I missed in-person church more than I’d realized.

Our church began meeting again in October, and it has been SO good to be back. Though Northpoint did a great job with their online content and other engagement opportunities when the church doors were closed, those options just didn’t quite live up to worshipping inside the church building alongside other believers. The masks and emptier sanctuary have been an adjustment, but still well worth it, and I am so glad that the twins and Charleston are getting to participate in church with other kids. 

12) 2020 is indeed the year of the never-ending pivot. 

Every time it feels like plans are getting nailed down, they change again and then again. In September, my parents had to cancel a trip to see us because my Dad needed a series of unplanned surgeries. Our Thanksgiving plans went through four iterations before we ultimately decided to buy a van and drive to California for the week. And those are just the big pivots. Countless other small pivots have occurred, not just for our family, but for EVERYONE. I honestly don’t know how much of this we can all take; on the bright side, this unpredictability has truly been a first-class lesson in flexibility and ingenuity. 

13) A last-minute road trip with three kids is doable.

Speaking of pivots: Luke and I made the decision to sell our CRV, buy a van (in Houston), and road-trip to California on a Friday afternoon, and we were packed and on the road by 9:30 on Sunday morning. The twenty-hour drive went surprisingly well and the family time was well worth the hurdles. As two indecisive and change-averse individuals, I was pretty dang proud of us for tackling a daunting trip in less-than-desirable circumstances. 

14) Our nation is so very divided.

Maybe this has always been true and I’m finally paying attention. Or maybe the political fractures in America today are something new. I do know that I’ve never personally felt these divisions so deeply in my soul, that my heart has never felt so broken by the viscousness and hypocrisy around me, and that I have never experienced so much internal anguish over politics and media. I long for harmony and unity and the ability to have honest, open conversations with individuals whose views differ from our own, yet in these crazy times, civility seems heartbreakingly elusive. 

15) Prayer is a lifeline.

Truth, peace, and sanity also feel elusive these days, and I’ve never been so thankful for a 24/7 direct line to The Source of wisdom, solace, and wholeness. The dark times of this season have deepened my faith and my prayer life, forcing me to hang on to God when it feels like the world is crumbling around my feet.  I joked with my parents that God decided to send these trials my way because He was seeking some extra quality time with me. . . and it worked! If “blessing” can be defined as “something that brings us closer to God,” this challenging season has been the Ultimate Blessing.

It’s your turn: what did you learn this season? Have you begun reflecting on the things you learned in 2020? I’m starting to compile my list and will be sharing that in a few weeks.

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