Kiddos are at school, the daylight hours are shortening, and everywhere I turn pumpkin is the flavor of the day. Yes, the season of fall is at hand. In addition to these signposts, stores and Instagram offer suggestions of how one is to decorate for this time of year.
The beginning of a new school year, although I really want it to be as exciting and happy as I remember from my childhood, is usually really stressful for our family. As we were approaching the start of school, I started to panic a little. I already knew that it would be hard for him to make and maintain friendships and that he would be slow with schoolwork and all the other fun things that come with ADHD. He knew it too, but God bless him, he was still so optimistic (I love that kid). So I took a page out of his book and grabbed on to his optimism and added my ability to imagine a good future and started to work on our HOW.
Fast forward many years… and my husband and I have four kids ranging in age from two to twelve. We live 1 mile from my parent’s doorstep. My kids are growing up in a completely different grandparent environment from the one I knew as a kid. And it makes me wonder so many things...
Not only was this the first chance I’d had to get a word in edgewise in weeks, it felt like one of those moments I needed to come up with something really fatherly to say. I figured the growing tension of this lengthening silence called for some profound speech about sensitivity and acceptance. I got into character. She needed to know, no matter what, that she should not call attention to her classmate’s prosthetic leg. She needed to know that she should just ignore it and talk to him like he’s any other kid. Yep, it was all coming together in my head. I didn’t have it all, but the silence was killing me so I began to speak and …
I ask myself these questions: Who is actually going to come over to the house today or maybe any day this week to see this mess of ours and can’t personally relate? Can dusting be put off one more week or one more day so I can get a power nap or run an errand that has higher priority? Would anyone notice if my floors aren’t mopped? Can I live with laundry being on the couch in piles until tomorrow?
It’s easy to dream of a BHAG for myself. The goals I want to aspire towards for my professional life, for life as a mom, for life with my spouse, where I want to be in 10 years, my consistent workout routine, my 5 star meal planning, where I want to travel to, the clothes I want to buy, my pinterest house decor I want, the car I’d like to drive, etc.
So far, I’ve managed to send my daughter off to school without her homework once every school year. When she was in first grade and lived to hang upside-down from the monkey bars, I sent her to school without the requisite shorts under her skirt. When she started wearing glasses, it took at least six months for me to recognize that something was missing when we left the house in the morning.
One year, for my daughter’s birthday party she chose to help a local animal shelter. She asked her friends to bring dog and cat toys, in lieu of gifts. We personally delivered the toys to the shelter and then toured the facility to see all the animals. She paid it forward to bring joy to animals instead of escalating the stuffed animal explosion in her room.
The family road trip is a slice of Americana that holds a special place in my heart from my own childhood. Like any other holiday, it was an annual event observed with its own unique set of traditions and rituals. I can still picture them in my mind.
In place of easing into the dawn of a fresh new day with thoughtfulness and intention, I’m thrown right into a barrage of questions that include meal planning, play dates and the recollection of supposed-promises that are in need of settling that very moment, regardless if my eyelids have unveiled my pupils. I do well under pressure, however I do NOTHING without a cup of coffee of 5 minutes to prepare myself for the day.
Since most of your days are filled with just surviving when you’re a new mom, your social life exists in text messages, on Facebook or Insta and running into friends at the grocery store (or church or gym, if you’re feeling extra). But those little moments of sanity, of being able to talk to another adult about adult things, even in the produce section, mean so much. They connect you to the life you had before but they also sustain you when you might be at your wits end. To feel not alone in the struggle, to be validated, to have a mom-family who understands the ups and downs of breastfeeding (or bottle feeding), annoying kids, allergies, “women's troubles”, health issues, sometimes unhelpful or too busy husbands, weight gain, weight loss, fertility issues, etc. etc. etc. is not just nice, but necessary.
But freedom exists outside of our national identity. Freedom exists within us as individuals and as a community and as a society as a whole. Perhaps it’s also a good time to consider what freedom means to us on a personal level and assess how we’re using it in that “pursuit of happiness” Thomas Jefferson so eloquently attached to our freedom.
Luxury backyard movie night can be quite magical. Borrow a projector from a family or church group and rig a sheet in front of the garage door and use your imagination for a comfy spot to sit or lay. Maybe the kids use an old box to design their own car for the “drive in” theater. Or use the family inflatable pool grandma bought you and toss some pillows and blankets inside for a “nest” effect.
“Let’s go, kids! We’re going to help Evelyn rake up her leaves this morning”, my dad would yell up the stairs. With loud groans and a sigh, we would all reply back with whatever dream we had for that particular Saturday morning, being crushed. Without an explanation or flinch, our parents would repeat “come on, let’s go” and we would reluctantly follow and do as we were told.
Years ago, I started making her order her food at restaurants. We read the menu together and sort out what she’ll be eating and drinking that night. But when the waiter asks if we’re ready to order, I say we are and then pass the conversation over to Livvy. She knows I’m expecting her to look the waiter in the eye, speak loud enough that he can hear her over the din of restaurant clatter and place her order. She knows questions are coming. “What side would you like? What would you like to drink?”
I have greater freedom and happiness because I am not a slave to my appetites and desires, my appetite and desires are a slave to me. Authentic love is when I am taught to give myself to others, to think of others, and in wanting their goodwill.
“One!” We say this with all the conviction of a battlefield commander ordering his troops to advance toward the enemy.
“Two!” The kid hasn’t moved and doubt is creeping in now.
“Two-and-a-half!” Hope is now our strategy. Hope that she moves soon and hope that she doesn’t know we’re technically at ‘three.’
“Two-and-five-eighths?” OK, who is doing the stalling at this point – me or my kid? Abort mission!
I really lose my mind during the summer months when we sleep with the windows open. Denver gets those middle of the night tempests where the rain comes in sideways just long enough to soak your carpet, warp your wooden floors or have your mdf window sills puff up like a sponge. My husband and I dash to the various rooms, delirious and half blind, trying to close windows before the precipitation causes a lake indoors. I race to the playroom, only to step on matchbox cars, Duplo’s and train tracks.
For our family, having a routine and schedule that is simple, enjoyable for all ages, and also spontaneous keeps our ship on course and sets us up for smooth sailing. Not to say there won’t be rough water at times, with a cranky child, someone having a melt down, poor weather or a chance that we run out of gas... but, we will do it together and create memories (both good and bad, embarrassing and complete fails). And on this journey and season of life, we will take all the help we can get!
I guess it’s no accident then, as I work to add some order to my life, that I think of my grandfather. He lived to be 93 and he didn’t spend much of that time wrestling with ambiguity. He was organized. He didn’t have an accent or an overtly ethnic name, but his love of details and his allergic reaction to “winging it” was proof enough of his German upbringing.
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Every month we choose a new virtue to focus on, setting goals for ourselves, our children and the entire family. Stay up to date with weekly articles from parents sharing their experiences as they themselves strive for personal and family growth.