I'm taking a break from the rush and rumble of getting ready to pack up and leave with a family of the size of ours. There are ten of us leaving tomorrow, allegedly right after church. Our actual departure time remains to be seen.
At times like this, I'm not usually very pleasant to be around. Generally, in the days preceding the RUSH, I get kind of overwhelmed feeling and start to fizzle out. I do next to nothing, because it's all a little bit too much for me; my brain freezes up.
Then at the last minute, I start to rush around, frantically throwing things together and hollering and screaming at my kids. Not a pretty sight. Then my husband gets frustrated, thinking the kids are deserving of the verbal abuse they are enduring, and he gets into the action. Ooh, not a good scene.
Then I, who know deep down that the emotional mess is of my own creation, try to sooth things over and get us on the road.
And we always eventually get going somehow.
But really, truly, getting ready for a trip is for me one of the worst of times.
And why, I ask, when I can predict so precisely how things are going to play out, can I not do something to change this sorry state of affairs? My prayer this time is that even when things get frantic, I refrain from the yelling and screaming. I want to have a happy Christmas.
So far, so good.
Today, I got up and got moving in a timely fashion. I made a chore list for the kids to tackle during the day, so that when we do eventually leave, the house is in a not-quite-so-messy state. My main job for today was to tackle the infamous Mt. Washmore. Da-da-da-daaaa. (That was scary, evil organ music, that notorious phrase from Beethoven's Fifth, in case you can't tell.)
I also had several odds and ends to take care of, PLUS, sort out and wrap all the Christmas gifts, AND (since I have five girls with winter birthdays, two of whom are on Dec 27th), I generally buy for birthdays and Christmas all at once for those girls, and end up sorting and wrapping for those occasions, too.
So, I was a little bit busy today, but in keeping with my goal (no maternal ugliness) I tried to stay upbeat and happy all day, and gave myself little minutes to rest my brain in between things. Like the minutes it's taking me to write this, for example.
Jeremy called me this morning when he got home from work; that was a treat. We exchanged our Christmas greetings and miscellaneous pleasantries; and I arranged for us to drop off his gifts on our way out tomorrow.
I even took time to do my pilates.
I listened to 80s music on my MP3 player while I washed and folded laundry.
And yet, the clock marched on. My goal was to have our family Christmas doings at 3:00 or 4:00 pm, but I was still folding clothes at 6:00. Sigh. But no ugliness. I decided I'd have to leave a small portion of Mr. Washmore standing.
I forged ahead and decided on the minimalist approach to wrapping gifts. I gathered all the assorted bags and packages of clearance and second hand purchases I've accumulated throughout the year. I summoned my husband to "join me in my chambers." (That may sound a bit risqué to the uninitiated, but the phrase is used by Mrs. Moody in the Little Britches books by Ralph Moody. Read them if you haven't. They are wonderful books for all ages.)
Where was I? Oh, yes, in my chambers. Joe had just joined me. As I pulled each item out of the packages, his assigned task was to add it to the appropriate pile, youngest to oldest, lined up along the floor of our room. Generally, we've tried to limit ourselves to one modest new or special gift per child, and we fill in with fun things that I pick up here and there. So when it's time to finally wrap the Christmas gifts, there is a bit of play, moving some things from one pile to another, until I am satisfied the arrangement will be appreciated by all. After Joe and I did the first tentative arrangement, I excused him from the process and finished manipulating the bounty by myself. It's kind of a one person job.
When I had all the piles arranged to my liking, I put into motion my emergency minimalist gift wrapping procedure. A plastic bag for each child...tied shut at the top...labeled with permanent marker. I loaded all the bags into a big box, and then threw a blanket over it all. This sleigh of sorts, Joe and I then pulled and carried into the living room, and set next to the tree. It wasn't fancy, but I reminded myself that all the trappings of the season, including pretty papers and trims, is not what really matters.
By the time we had everything ready, it was nearing 7:00pm. The kids still needed bathed; we had not eaten supper; and the packing for tomorrow was not yet started. But... NO MATERNAL UGLINESS... right? Take a deep breath, Mary, and just enjoy the moment.
We gathered everyone in the living room. I had Matt light the candles on the Advent wreath, and all the others around the living room. We turned off all the lights in the house except a table lamp near Joe. He read to us the Christmas story from both Matthew and Luke. Then we turned off the lamp, and each of us got to choose a Christmas hymn to sing.
It was the best of times.
When we were done with our Christmas worship, we started the part the kids were all waiting for. We opened our oh-so-lovely presents. I sat down by the erstwhile sleigh and, starting with the oldest working to the youngest, one at a time, I gave each person their plastic shopping bag. Each got to open his or her own, before we moved onto the next. Anticipation built as we worked our way down to the youngest ones.
After the gifts from Joe and I were opened, the kids handed out all the treasures they had prepared for each other these last few weeks. Colored pictures, puzzle pages ripped from a favorite activity book, candies saved from their treat bags at church, lip balm, lotion, a favorite book, a hand-me-down clothing item...I love to see how creative the kids get in giving to each other with our limited resources. Probably one of our favorites was one Stella gave to Sophie. She had used the pretty unused gift tag from one of her gifts. She filled in her and Sophie's names in the to and from spots, and because it had such a pretty ribbon on it, she gave it as a Christmas tree ornament for Sophie. Priceless!
It was the very BEST of times.
My Sophie gave me a singing card and a windowed locket containing within it a different colored gem symbolizing each of the fruits of the Spirit. Clara gave me the painted turtle sculpture that she made in art class last year. Joe plans to get me the 2012 Writer's Market guide. And my friend, Christine, who makes beautiful jewelry, and from whom I got some pretty things for my oldest girls, sent along a little treasure for me also: a beautiful, sparkly bracelet that I am wearing as I write this. It is winking provocatively at me. I keep wondering what it is up to, with such a merry glimmer in its eye.
Jesus' birth, our heavenly Father's gift of His only Son, is the greatest gift of all. But my mother's heart joyfully drank in my family's Christmas celebration. Now I am refreshed to tackle the rest of the things on my list.
Well, I wish I was anyway. I am filled with a warm glow of the love of God and my family. But truth be told, I'm really pretty tired and kind of ready for bed already.
Do you remember the game, Blockhead, from back in the '70s and '80s? Players would take turns stacking colorful blocks of various shapes and sizes in such as way as to balance their blocks on the sometimes tottering stack, while at the same time making it difficult for the following players to find a spot to successfully position their own blocks.
Apparently it is still available, but not with the cool '70s look I remember.
Blockhead was fun as a game.
But when we're talking real life, and the constant state of one's countertops, tabletops, and any other horizontal surface in one's home, life can get a bit dicey.
I've learned to live in a state of heightened awareness of the potentialities such a situation affords. I'm always cautious of how I set something down, lest it start an avalanche that will pull over the last several months' worth of debris, and cause the contents of an entire countertop to slither and slide, and tumble and rumble, quickly to the floor. This morning I saw something that might have brought a more timid soul to her trembling knees. I, however, am thoroughly acclimated to living within this constant state of, uh, expectancy.
One of the places in our home that seems to constantly build up clutter and then also consequently have that same clutter tumble and slide to the floor is the half-wall that divides our upstairs hallway from the stairs to the basement. The stacks in this location can get a little more precarious than those in other locations, since the tumbling papers and toys and books and other miscellany pose an additional risk to any poor unfortunate who might be walking up the stairs at the moment an avalanche occurs.
And yet, still we stack.
Today, as I was walking from the kitchen to the living room, walking along that previously described half-wall, I noticed the all too familiar, precariously stacked oddments along the top edge of the wall. But then, shudder, I saw a disaster of worse than usual potential, just waiting to happen.
Now picture with me. The heap of junk that is sitting upon the top of the wall consists of several layers of books, papers, magazines, notebooks, puzzles, and games, among other sundry flotsom of life with ten kids. Each layer gets a little wider, so that along the top of what is a mere seven inch horizontal surface, the pile that accumulates is perhaps a foot high, but might also be a foot wide or even more. The edges hang over the hallway floor, but also teeter dangerously above the stairway.
This morning, as I passed this jumble,... there... sitting upon the top of everything... as nice as could be... only slightly askew,... sat one of Joe's pint jars that uses for drinking glasses.. serenely waiting there... with about three inches of coffee in the bottom. There it sat, just looking for an opportunity to creep off at the slightest nudge. Just waiting for one of the overhanging edges to get bumped or jostled. Just waiting.
Heavens to mergatroyd! I grabbed it quickly.
A disaster dodged. Am I ever glad I saw it when I did.
Yesterday we had two running around things to accomplish, in opposite directions. We had to go to Fosston to pick up the van, which had spent the night at Carco getting its pre-winter check-up done. And we had to deposit some money in the bank somewhere. After picking up the van, Joe took the little girls home, and I continued on in the car to do the banking. But first, I had to decide where to go. Fosston has no Wells Fargo, so my banking options were to drive 48 miles back north into Thief River Falls to deposit the money there, and then pick up a few things at Wal-Mart; or continue east on US 2 into Bemidji, about another 45 miles, but then be able to catch a variety of stores. It may seem a no-brainer to head into Bemidji with its relative multitude of shops, and it being a few miles closer to Fosston. But if I went into Bemidji, I’d have to drive about 75 miles home after shopping; whereas if I went into TRF, I would be only 25 miles from home at the end of the day.
What to do...what to do...
I don’t generally indulge in unplanned trips to the ”big city” (especially unattended by little ones). But it is Christmas season. And I felt the draw of Bemidji’s Goodwill. So I headed in that direction. It was a nice day for a drive anyway; cold, but crisply clear with a sparkling blue sky.
I wanted to get to the bank by 3:00, so my deposit would go in before the weekend, but I was cutting it kind of close. I pushed it as much as I dared. Since I got a written warning a few weeks ago, compliments of Officer Norland of the Minnesota State Patrol, I’ve been a bit more cautious of late. I pulled into the bank parking lot at 2:55, but there was a hold up in the bank (3:00 on a Friday...I should have known) and I stood in line for almost ten minutes.
When my turn finally arrived, I immediately asked if it was too late for a deposit to go in before the weekend. The teller said that yes, it was. But that I could put it in the ATM until 9:00pm, and it would be credited immediately. Whew. A little luck.
Or maybe not.
I may have mentioned a time or two that I’m a certified techno-phobe. We finally got debit cards just a few months ago; and I felt very cool and accomplished after I learned how to slide it through the little gizmo and sign my name. But the ATM, now that I’ve never done. Really. Never. Well, that’s not quite true. About three months ago, in Grand Forks, they had a promotion for the new envelope free deposit. If I tried out the machine, I’d get a dollar to deposit, just to try it out. The teller there gave me my complimentary dollar and then patiently took me out to the ATM in the entry, and walked me through the process. Oh, OK, easy, cheesy. No sweat. Nothing to fear.
So, there I was, three months later, in the drive through lane, about to do it all on my own. Take a few cleansing breaths, Mary, you can do it...
Oh, no! What’s my PIN number? Shoot, shoot, shoot. Didn’t I write it down somewhere? Ummm,...one of the kid's birthdays? my childhood pet? favorite hymn? Grrr. I drew a complete and utter blank. Well, there was nobody behind me, so I decided to dig through my purse and try to engage my brain. I remembered writing it down. Another thing I’m very poor with is remembering numbers, so yes, if you ever rob me, you’ll probably find a few PINs or passwords. But you’ll have to figure out which goes to what. They are not labeled. I'm so sure...I'm not THAT dumb!
I took a few minutes to dig through the month's worth of receipts and the miscellaneous detritus of a mother’s purse. I guess it needed cleaned out anyway. Oops, a car pulled in behind me....I pulled into a parking spot until I could figure it out.
Well, it’s too late to make a long story short. I ended up going inside again, and waiting in line again, and ashamedly confessing to the teller what a misfit I am, since I don’t even know how to use the ATM. She kindly and patiently helped me to set a new password,...and suddenly...excellent timing...I remembered the old one. Hmmm. So I simply re-entered the old one, so my new one is my old one. I remembered it long enough to complete the transaction once I was back out in the drive through. It remains to be seen how long it will stay in my brain without being dislodged by some factoid of more pressing import.
Nice start to my afternoon of shopping.
By then it was 3:30, and I had wasted half an hour. But besides that... drat... I ought to have remembered, the middle school buses come in a swarm at that time of day past the west exit of the parking lot. After waiting for what felt like 40 buses to pass, I was finally once again on my way. But it did leave me wondering...If I only come to Bemidji about four or five times a year, and if it seems like I always get caught waiting for the buses at that particular parking lot exit at that particular time of day, does it imply that I’m always rushing to get to the bank before 3:00, and always arriving late?
At any rate, off to Goodwill and Twice But Nice. I’m not telling what I got there, but let’s just say it was probably too much...
(No books, though, Char, or small appliances; you’d have been proud of me. They did have a Braun immersion blender I picked up, and hemmed and hawed over. It’s nice to have an extra one around if a previously purchased second-hand one goes on the fritz. But I put it back, since I was Christmas shopping; strangely none of my kids has an immersion blender on their wish list.)
After cleaning out the second hand stores, I scurried across the street to Ben Franklin, simply because I love looking at fabric and yarn. But I didn’t buy any. Really. I was a good girl. There was lots of very cool yarn that I would have loved to buy. There was even one of those free promotional patterns for a very pretty plush afghan. But it took 11 skeins of yard, and the yarn around which the pattern was designed was $6.00 a skein. A $66 afghan? Really? Do regular people really have that much money to spend on yarn? I was stunned. I seriously can’t even imagine. I’m so penny pinching that it almost kills me to buy the multi colored yarns that switch from one color to another throughout the skein, because they are smaller skeins for the same price as the larger solid-colored skeins.
After doing that quick and very deflating calculation, I returned to the car empty handed, and moved on to Target and Wal-mart. I didn’t get much at Target, but I like that dollar section at the front of the store. I can always find some sort of doodads with which to fill the “box of tricks” I keep in my basement.
OK, now here’s a confession, it's embarrassing. But this made me really mad, so I have to tell you about it. After that whole frustrating altercation with the teller machine earlier, wasting half an hour of my limited time in town, my debit card wasn’t even accepted at Wal-Mart. I didn’t spend that much!!! I know the money was in there! Why would they tell me that if I used the stupid ATM, the money would be immediately available, if it isn’t going to be?!? I’m going to have to call the TRF bank this morning and figure it out. It was very frustrating. I wrote a check, so it was not really a big deal. But still...Embarrassing!
By the time I wended my way through the milling crowds of holiday, Friday-evening Target and Wal-Mart shoppers it was, predictably, much later than I had wanted to stay in town. I still needed to put gas on the car and get a cup of coffee for the drive home. (Did any of you notice the strange preposition in that last sentence? Now tell me, who puts gas on a car? It would just run off, wouldn’t it? You put the gas in the car. Except if you live in Minnesota, you put gas on the car. Don’t ask me. I can’t explain it. I’ve lived in Minnesota for a total of eighteen years now, and it still sounds strange enough to me that I have to interject this little explanation into my post, so that any non-Minnesotans reading this don’t think it’s a typo.)
Now where was I? Oh, yes, gas and coffee. I pulled into the Murphy USA adjacent to Wal-Mart, and filled up. I got back in the car while I let it fill, which I’ve learned the hard way is a bit risky when the temps are low. When I first moved to Northern Minnesota, I once let about 8 gallons of gas overflow onto the pavement, because it was too cold to trigger the turn-the-pump-off thing. Strange but true. That little sign that warns you not to leave the pump unattended while filling, it’s for a purpose, and now I know. I still get in the car if it’s cold, but I keep my eyes on the pump. And when the number of gallons going in approaches the number I expect the car to need, I keep a close eye on the nozzle.
Last night my luck held and no gas was spilled. But when I went in to pay for the gas, I remembered that this particular gas station doesn’t have hot coffee. I make this mistake at least once a winter. I should know better. I ought to have filled up at that place several miles out of town. But once I hit the road, I don’t like to stop.
So I still needed coffee. I gave into all the pent-up frustrations of the day, and indulged in a Caribou Coffee. It was really handy, and I felt like I needed a little treat.
Finally, 7:00, and I was just heading home. I had hoped to be home in time for a late supper. I didn’t leave any instructions for Joe, so I felt a little negligent. And for some reason both our cell phones were missing when I left home earlier; so I had no way to call and check on how everyone was doing on the home front. (Not going to mentioned any names, but after the kids got home from the basketball game last night, I asked about the phones. A certain one of them happened to have them both. You know who you are...)
The drive home went quickly. It started out with John Denver’s Thank God I'm a Country Boy, which you may find hoaky, but it’s one of my favorite songs. Between the happy song and the warm fancy coffee, I was feeling a bit revved up. Glad to be heading home, happy with my purchases, always ready for a little road trip. That lasted about half way home until I heard a song that made me cry. Hey, it’s OK. It's been all of about two weeks since I’ve had a good car cry. I was due.
It was Clay Walker's The Chain of Love. Again, perhaps hoaky. Maybe I'm waxing maudlin in my old age. I saw on Wikipedia that when it was originally released, one reviewer called it sickly sweet.
I was going to be really creative and think up all new lyrics to Walking in a Winter Wonderland, in order to tell about my morning walk. But I'm more comfortable with prose than poetry. You'll just have to forego the pleasure of my verse.
When we got the kids up this morning, it was a whopping 3 above zero. Oooh, a little cold. But by the time I left for my walk at 8:00, it was down to zero. I bundled up in my sweatshirt and parka, wrapped my extra long and wide scarf around my head three times, and took off for Lana's.
I pulled up into Lana's drive; as is typical, I was a few minutes late. She had already been around the barnyard a couple of times. See, when you get all bundled up, you can't wait for your partners inside or you overheat. And you can't really come outside and just stand around waiting either. So Lana sometimes gets in a few more rounds than the rest of us.
Today when I arrived, she was finishing up a round. She approached my car as I got out and pulled myself together. She bemoaned the fact that her glasses were fogging up because of her warm breath filtering up through her neck gator and landing on the cold glass. She set her glasses on the back window of my car.
I contemplated doing the same. But I'm really, really blind without my glasses. Really. Blind. I'm not at all comfortable without them. I thought if I could adjust my scarf correctly, I could make it work.
And so we started out.
As Lana and I were finishing our first round together, we could see through the trees that Connie's car had pulled into the drive. Unlike myself, Connie's not typically late, but she's been battling a head cold. We were both surprised, pleasantly so, that she was up to walking on such a cold morning. Jan was with her, so we had our complete foursome.
We tried to keep a brisk pace this morning, to keep the warm blood pumping into our extremities. We all adjusted various times to find the optimal warmth for our particular apparel items and metabolism. I pulled my fingers up into the palm part of my gloves and balled my fists to warm my thumbs, which had gotten cold on the drive over. Lana and Jan traded hand coverings, because Lana's hands were too hot in her mittens and Jan's were getting cold in her gloves. Connie had enough layers on, that she was getting a bit too warm. I kept fidgeting with my scarf to get it just right.
But I soon realized that the whole "adjust the scarf to keep the glasses clear" thing was not going to happen. So I settled for scooting them down to the end of my nose to see over the top. Which worked fine until my shoe came undone. I must have been kind of wriggling my foot or trying to look down past the foggy glasses or something, because Lana asked what was wrong. I said, "I think my shoe is undone, but I can't see far enough to tell for sure." She looked down and sure enough, my shoelace was dangling.
That lead to a big discussion and a few chuckles about all of our glasses being so useless. We spent the rest of that round cooking up silly rescue ideas. If somebody stumbled into the woods, another of us would be sure to come and get her; and somebody would give a holler if one or another of us was about to get tangled in a piece of farm equipment.
When we got back to the driveway, I veered off to the cars to tie my shoe and deposit my glasses. Yes, I had surrendered to the frosty air and decided to walk blindly. But then, really, looking over the top of my glasses is no less blind than just taking them off. But still, when one is a blind as I, glasses become a security thing. If they are at the end of my nose, I know they are there if I need them. I could always breathe on them and clear them off if need be. But I bravely set them on the back window with Lana's glasses and forged on.
I heard Brad calling to the ladies as they passed his shop, "It's nice and warm in here if you want to come in and warm up." After having slowed down for a little bit, and thereby cooling off a little, the warmth was tempting. By this time, we had all developed a hoary layer of frost on our scarves and headgear. But instead of giving into the desire to warm up, I jogged past the shop to catch up with the others. When I caught up with them, I kept up my jog. I told about how books about dogsledding, or those set in the old days of horse and sleigh, often describe having to get down periodically to jog alongside, to keep warm. The mushers and drivers would stomp their feet and pound their chests to get the blood to their extremities.
Well, the girls decided they wanted to give that a try. After a few steps of it, somebody said, "Hey, this really works. Let's try to make it to those bales up there." And so we jogged past the cowyard and laughed as the cows watched us pass.
I do realize that zero is hardly extreme in the big scheme of things. But taking a walk in such invigorating weather gives a person a little lift, simply because of the spirit of adventure and accomplishment it imbues.
A friend posted this passage to her facebook today and I thought it fit well with the direction of this particular post I've been working on seemingly forever (really, the post editor shows I started it on October 7. My, my, am I ever pokey!). This passage admits that this life will have its struggles, but clearly tells us where to find the comfort we need when things get hard.
As a stay at home (formerly homeschooling) mother of a large family, arguably the most basic part of my identity goes against the grain of mainstream society. I am first and foremost a mother. And I have lots of kids.
In that sense, I am a rebel. That in and of itself is not a problem for me, since I've struggled with a wayward and difficult personality all my life. My dad used to say that I intentionally chose the most different, or unusual, or even argumentative stance on anything. Just to be difficult. And some might say this big family thing is another example of my penchant for troublemaking.
But I don't think so. Yes, in this day and age, a large family is somewhat unusual. OK, very unusual. And it does take a certain amount of chutzpa to go against the societal grain. But in the larger historical sense, within the Christian tradition, children have always been considered a blessing from God; they were desired and prayed for; and a large family was considered a bonus. And historically speaking, letting God decide one's family size was assumed. It was, simply put, the right thing to do.
Joe and I didn't set out to "have a big family," although being the second oldest of eight children, I certainly grew up knowing the value of a large family. But we do believe that God knows better than we, how many children we ought to have, and how far apart we ought to have them. It's so much less stressful that way.
I've read that there is a trend toward larger families, especially among conservative Christians. And I've seen a bit of that myself. During our homeschooling days, among other homeschool families, it was not at all unusual to know others who also had a larger than average number of kids.
But within that trend, there is a bit of a problem. Most people today are not from large families. So if they follow the path of fully embracing God's blessings and His plan for their family, and if God chooses to bless such a couple with a large family, they may not know quite how to go about the logistics of it all. Most young people who are starting a family today did not grow up with any example of parenting a large number of kids, or of managing a large household. Periodically, I find myself in the role of "elder matron" to a younger mother, providing her with mentoring and advise on how to make things work. And quite frankly, I don't always feel up to that task. Just ask my kids. I'm not really a picture-perfect kind of mother. And I'm a horrible housekeeper.
In this role of elder matron, I often talk to women who seem weighed down with a sense of failure. And I have often felt this same way myself. We mothers so want to do everything right for our children. We want to give them the very best opportunity to become responsible, moral, and God-pleasing adults. We want to provide a healthful and peaceful home life. We have admirable and God-pleasing goals. So why doesn't it work? Why can't we get it together?
One reason I've seen, in both my own life and the lives of other women, can be brought on by these same very noble and God-pleasing goals. It is easy to lend such goals or ideals a sense of near-idolatry. We so ardently want a certain kind of Godly home, that the type, or ideal, takes on an import that is out of proportion with the very same God-pleasing lifestyle we are trying so hard to achieve. And when that goes awry, as it often does in this sin ridden world, we can easily become frustrated or even depressed.
One of the biggest challenges in my adult life as a wife and mother has been letting go of the man-made standards I had imposed upon myself. I have sometimes struggled to be joyful, or even just content, with who I am as a woman of God. And one of the biggest hurdles to contentment and joy that I've seen, both in my own life, and in the lives of other women I speak to, is coming to peace with the things I am realistically able to accomplish, and the standards I am able to hold up for my children and family.
What do I mean by man-made standards, or ideals? One of the ways we make decisions for our families is by listening to and emulating those parents or families we respect and admire. A husband and wife each has a different example of parenting from his or her own upbringing, but also brings into a marriage any ideas he or she has picked up along the way.
We also see how our friends are making their homes and raising their families; we read about a variety of philosophies and practices in magazines, on blogs and internet groups, through parenting groups or homeschooling groups, etc. We hear radio interviews and attend presentations. With today's global communication and transportation, we can find examples of various lifestyles and parenting methods just about anywhere.
And so we must glean. First and foremost, we must examine everything through the lens of God's Word. But we also use our common sense, instinct, and unique personalities to come up with a personal style of parenting and homemaking that works for us.
But remember, everyone is different. I can't say this often enough. Everyone is different, every couple is different, and every family is different.
Each couple's children inherit the genetic make up of their parents. We pass on to our children parts of our personalities, some of which are great and wonderful, but others which are not so much so. Some of what they inherit from us will be a constant struggle to them, just as it is to us.
But not only that, they also see and emulate both the good and bad behavior of their parents. This all adds up to a particular flavor of family dynamic that is unique to each couple's home.
When I started out parenting, I really wanted to do the Laura Ingalls thing. Back to basics, and old fashioned rules. I inherited from my upbringing a, "Hard work is good," ethic, and also a good share of the somber German attitude, "If it's fun or pleasurable, it's bad."
I was raised in a very regimented family. We had clearly defined rules and punishments and formulas for everything. And I always imagined that I'd follow in my parent's footsteps in those ways, too. Follow the formula, and everything's all right. Right?
God has laid out my life for me. He showed me through many struggles and failures and feelings of beating the proverbial head against the wall, that, "What worked for your mom and dad does not work for you and Joe."
Firstly, I am not my mom. In fact, I myself am adopted, and so I don't even have the genetic personality or gifts that my mother has. Secondly, I married a man very different than my dad, and so another flavor was brought into our home. Along with that, yet another mix of genetic code was passed on to our children. Joe's and my personalities, Joe's cultural background, and our kids' new and unique dispositions didn't seem to go well with the "formulas" I had been holding as the ideal. Hard as I tried, I couldn't make it work.
It was a very painful process to have to let go of those ideals. God definitely put me through the crucible, until I let go of the false god I had built up in such ideals. And yes, I mean false god. The ideal had become the god. Living up to the standard was more important to me than simply loving my children and making a home. If I didn't do it "well enough" or "the right way" then I felt as though I had failed, and I was not a happy Mama.
But when I found that those rules or standards I wanted to use in my home, which I had totally expected would work in my home, weren't working with the particular family with which God had blessed me, with what did I replace such standards? How does one leave off what one has held to as an almost Biblical ideal, and find something of equal value with which to replace it? How does that work in practice?
What has worked for me is to keep in mind a set of long term parenting goals. Joe and I set these goals many years ago. It was part of an exercise for short, medium, and long term homeschooling goals which I did back when my youngest were just reaching school age. I very highly recommend every young family write down a set of such goals. In busy life, the short term goals will change frequently, and may not get written down. But having something on paper, especially for the long term goals, to which one can return time and again, is a very useful thing.
My long term goals are very basic. And when taken in the light of such long term goals, many of the daily rules and strictures and formulas loose their ability to overwhelm or imprison.
For instance, consider some of the things I strive for and struggle with: I want to have order in my home. I want to teach my kids to be orderly. I want to punish when needed in a reasonable, timely, and consistent fashion. I want to have a happy, joyful home. I want to read to my kids nightly. I want to have wholesome and nutritive meals, and clean, well-organized clothing.
These are all things I desire for my home and family. But none of those things are part of my long term goals.
My long term goals go more like this.
I want to raise God-fearing children who are able to confess their sins and turn to their Savior for forgiveness and for the mantle of His Righteousness.
I want my adult children to be able to be responsible citizens according to their abilities, who have the skills to provide for themselves and whatever number of dependants God gives them.
I want my adult children to be well enough versed to be able to communicate the hope that lies within them.
That's about it. Simple, huh?
Would I like the kind of "ideal" family with all generations working together, which I used to hear about within the homeschooling community? Yes. I like to think so. But is that kind of family the only God-fearing model? Nope.
Would I like to be more organized with my household tasks? Yes, absolutely. But is it necessary to my long term goals. Nope.
Would I like to not have to periodically rummage through the dirty laundry in order to find those "not so dirty" things in which to clothe my children for an outing? Yep. But not a necessity.
Would I like my children to be able to work together to do dishes without bickering? Oh, boy, would I ever! But more than that, I want them to know where to bring the sin of their bickering and harsh words, and how to forgive each other as Christ forgives us.
Why am I rambling on about this? Because this is exactly the type of thing that can wear a mother down. We easily see the very many things we are not accomplishing. We readily feel the weight of the enormous responsibility we face day by day and minute by minute.
We, many of us, have very high expectations and standards with which we'd like to run our families. But things don't always run the way we'd like to see them run. We aren't always able to incorporate the various formulas we are lead to believe will work well.
But if we have long term goals to which we can refer when things seem to be going poorly, we can cast our heart to those goals. We can refocus on what's really important, and let everything else sort itself out in time.
We are all still wonderful women who have many things to offer the world, both in our parenting, and also in every other interaction we undertake daily. We may always struggle to want to do things a certain way, by a certain set of lifestyle, parenting, or homemaking standards. And that's OK.
Other times we may decide to strip down our life to the simplicity of those long term goals. We can remember those goals at their most basic, and see how our particular personality can accomplish such goals in a way that is more in tune with who God made us. It's not a sin to be disorganized and flighty, for instance. It's a challenge. But not a sin.
And so with many of our daily struggles. There will always be things we wish we could do better. There might always be those standards or ideals we wish we had better maintained within our family. We may feel as though our children will never learn to get along and work together.
But we must never become envious of women and families that seem so much better at it all than we feel. And we must not covet a skill set or personality profile we or our children don't possess.
By living each day in our baptismal grace, and holding to the eternal truths and things of eternal import, we can learn to forgive ourselves of our failures, just as our heavenly Father has forgiven us. We can find contentment, peace and yes, even joy, in the singular women God has made us, and the unique family with which God has blessed each of us.