Stagnant. That’s the primary emotion I can identify when I ask myself how I am doing these days. I’m not even sure if stagnant is a true emotion, but it’s the only word that seems to capture the feeling of emotional, psychological, and spiritual stasis I have experienced this spring. Ironically, my external world is everything BUT stagnant. It was a busy season, with plenty of activities filling our schedule and even more kid-flavored “busyness” in the forms of LOTS of noise, questions, noise, energy, noise, boisterousness. . . and did I mention that our home has been very LOUD?! I am in a season with my kids that is fun but exhausting; I need to be ON and ON CALL at every moment. It won’t last forever, and I am doing my best to cherish the goodness of these long and tiring days, but a side effect is that my inner world must stay very still so my outer world can remain in healthy motion.
My internal stagnation made it harder than usual for me to compile this seasonal list of what I have learned. The end of spring caught me off guard and I struggled to identify what I even did this season, let alone what I learned while doing it. The lessons I landed on are largely things I re-learned this season, or things I am on the cusp of learning and want to explore further. Not surprisingly, many of these lessons are parenting related because that is where my head and heart and time are these days.
Perhaps you have been in a similar place of moving through life without taking time to absorb and reflect. If that is you, my hope is that an item or two on this list might jumpstart some learning for you as we close out this spring and inch our way into summer.
1. Creativity is an under-recognized but invaluable mothering skill.
In thinking through why this stage of parenting has been especially exhausting, I realized it has a lot to do with how much thinking and problem-solving it requires. As my kids get older, my interactions with them are no longer mindless and routine. Navigating their questions, conflicts, strong personalities, and clever negotiation skills requires thoughtful innovation and plenty of out-of-the box thinking. In a given day I may lean into my creativity to determine an adequate consequence, design a compelling math lesson, answer theological questions, negotiate playtime parameters, stop a tantrum in its tracks, and decide on a fun family outing. Some days even I am astounded by the ideas that come to me when I need them most.
1b) Shaving cream in the shower = Bathing lifesaver!
This is one of the creative solutions I landed upon recently: allowing the twins to “draw” with shave cream on the shower walls while they shower with me is the fastest, easiest, and happiest way to get them clean at the end of the day. What I tried on a whim one evening instantly shifted our bathing routines from something our whole family dreaded to an activity they actually beg for each night.
2) Venus Fly Traps make great family “pets.”
Trappy the Venus Fly Trap came home with Luke and Charleston from Home Depot one day and has provided endless entertainment for my kids in the weeks since. We have enjoyed learning about these plants, watching Trappy grow, and hunting down flies to feed him. The plant sits on our dining table and we have had fun watching and talking about (and sometime talking to) him during our meals. As far as how he measures up to more traditional pets: he’s not great at fetch, and he’s a total drag when we try to take him for walks, but maintenance is minimal and family interest remains high.
3) Expectations are the fastest way to spoil a birthday.
It’s a mistake I make almost every year; maybe writing it down will solidify the lesson. My birthday this year was not terrible, but it unfortunately did not involve the only things I really wanted (good behavior from my kids, few burdensome responsibilities, and a little pampering). I realize now that these were not realistic expectations and were a recipe for disappointment. Next year I will communicate my birthday wishes (something I did not do this year, assuming my family would magically anticipate my desires) and hold my expectations much more loosely so as not to be let down.
4) I am engaged in many parasocial relationships.
I had never heard the term parasocial relationship until a few months ago; now it’s popping up everywhere! A Google search tells me that these are “one-sided relationships formed when one party extends energy, interest, and time and the other person doesn’t know they exist.” In other words, these are the types of relationships I engage in with countless podcast hosts, bloggers, and occasional celebrities. For years I’ve found myself accidentally referring to these entities as friends; now I have a term for the dynamic, and the mere fact of a label and its clinical title is revealing the potential unhealthiness of these “relationships.”
5) When studying the Bible—wait before rushing to other resources for insight.
In the past, whenever I encountered a difficult passage in Scripture, I rushed to commentaries and other translations to help me understand what I was reading. But since reading Jen Wilken’s (incredible!) book Women of the Word, I have been taking her suggestion to celebrate delayed gratification in my Bible study. In a chapter on studying the Bible with patience, Jen reminds us that “hurrying to eliminate the dissonance of the ‘I don’t know’ moment actually diminishes the effectiveness of the ‘aha moment’ of discovery.” I am still utilizing those extra resources, but I am first pausing to sit with a passage, praying as I work to understand what God is saying to me directly and not through a third party.
6) Having fun with fashion makes body image woes a little more tolerable.
I have not stepped on a scale in ages, but even without numerical evidence, I can tell that I’ve gained quite a bit of weight in the past several months. The weight gain is necessary, but old habits die hard, and having spent decades trying to be in the smallest body possible, I doubt I will ever make peace with a body that is anything other than skeletal. To make the shift more palatable, I am doing my best to celebrate the upsides to these body changes, and they are numerous: more energy, less physical discomfort, healthier modeling for my kids, and the ability to fit into something other than leggings and oversized tops (hooray for finally being able to find jeans in my size!). Even though I don’t especially love the current size of my body, I can still put care and love into how I dress; I can redirect my energy from disliking my body to loving the items I am putting on my body. I know that for many women, focusing more on their clothing would not be healthy; for me, this has been an overwhelmingly positive shift.
7) Kids reach milestones on their own timing.
This is yet another lesson I learn again and again. This spring, I revisited the milestone takeaway via the twins’ potty training journey. After a stressful few months of pressure-free potty introduction, we decided one day in March to drop the pull-ups cold turkey and we haven’t looked back. Kali and Sully let me know they were ready for the change, and minus a couple of unavoidable accidents, they are now painlessly diaper-free (even at night!). All three of my kids tend to be late bloomers who develop in dramatic shifts rather than slow-and-steady steps. I need to remember this next time I am worried one of them is “behind”: they will get there when they are ready, and will likely surpass my expectations when they do.
8) A playground (even a small one) is a great initiator of playtime and community.
A small playground was recently built just outside of the rec center that the kids and I frequent several times per week, and we are all LOVING it. The equipment itself is nothing to write home about, but the kids all want to play on it every time we leave the gym. Other moms and their kids have done the same, and it has led to some delightful new friendships. Surprisingly, the kids always begin on the playground equipment but are soon running around the surrounding fields and trails—spots that have existed in the many years we’ve been at this rec center, but didn’t hold quite the same appeal until the playground made its appearance. It’s amazing how a jungle gym and slide have helped us see and utilize this outdoor spot in entirely fresh ways.
9) Impossible dreams may be that way for a reason.
This lesson is a little heady, but stay with me: in the book Hello Beautiful (which I finished last week), a character realizes that she has set impossible dreams for her romantic life because they are unattainable. She tells another character, “I always thought that I wanted that dream because I was romantic and destined to live a big life, but that wasn’t true. I created that dream because real life scared me, and that dream seemed so far-fetched I didn’t think it would ever happen. . . Which meant I got to feel good about the fact that I had a dream and yet I could stay safe.” The futility of her dream was actually what made it appealing; she felt incapable and unworthy of investing in an imperfect relationship, so she set her sights on a perfect one that would never be possible. This character’s approach sheds uncomfortable insight into my own relationship with perfectionism and all-or-nothing thinking: I attempt to sidestep disappointment by setting sky-high goals I KNOW are impossible, since an anticipated failure is easier than putting in the hard work to succeed at a goal that could be possible. It’s a strange game of reverse psychology that I didn’t even know I was playing with myself; now that I see it, it’s impossible to ignore.
9b) Sometimes fiction reveals things about ourselves that nonfiction never could.
I was surprised by how much the experience of the Hello Beautiful character resonated with me (especially because I found her to be an especially unlikable character in a book I didn’t really love). The lightbulb moment that came to me through that novel is still fresh and is something I will be exploring (probably writing about) further. For now, I’m thankful for books that shower me with insights I never saw coming.
10) A year can make all the difference.
It’s a parenting cliché that never stops surprising me. I don’t always notice the growing up occurring before my eyes, but every once in a while it becomes so obvious I can’t help but pay attention. In April we re-enrolled the twins in gymnastics for the first time in a year: last spring they were in a mommy-and-me class and still requiring a lot of assistance; now they are doing great in a big-kid class that I observe from the sidelines. Everything about their class experience is different: they are better at paying attention and following directions, have more body awareness, and are more engaged in the activities. I have a love-hate relationship with seeing how much can change in such a short time, but awareness helps me make the most of the beautiful moments that will be over too soon and endure the tough times knowing that these, too, will pass.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: You may recall that I took a week off of blogging during the first week of March (which is, according to my totally unscientific understanding of the seasons, the beginning of spring). I am doing a repeat with summer: this is your heads up that there will be no blog posts next week, the first week of June. (Who knows, I may make this a blog tradition—jumpstarting each quarter with a mini blogging sabbatical.) Our family has some fun things planned for this next week and I can’t wait to tell you all about ’em. I will meet you back here on Monday, June 5, with a recap of our family’s various happenings and highlights from May. See you then!