“But It’s Not Like Last Time!”: Finding Joy in Unmet Expectations and Change

Remember this?

Her face was red and wet with tears. Her fists were clenched and she was shaking her head spastically making her blonde hair flail around her head. She continued to whine and complain, but I could barely understand her words through her deep sobs. She was having a full-fledged meltdown.

Baggage was to blame.

No, not figurative baggage, as in difficult life circumstances that travel with us from our pasts into our future, I mean baggage, as in, our suitcases.

My 9-year-old daughter, Kenzie, was sitting in the one back row seat of our van that we had not folded down so as to have more room for our luggage. The van was still snuggly parked in our garage, and we were testing out the seating arrangements for our twenty-hour drive to Florida. This would be our second year taking a Spring Break vacation as a family of five. There was a lot of stuff shoved into our minivan: golf clubs, suitcases, beach chairs, snacks. Kenzie was surrounded by all of it in this trial run of making sure we could get everything in the van, including the kids.

Kenzie wasn’t crying because she was crowded or uncomfortable, she was crying because the suitcases were not close enough to her.

Sob. “Last year when I sat here the suitcases were right up against me!” Sob. “That was one of my favorite parts of the drive.” Sob. “I want it to be just like last year!” Wail.

There are moments in parenthood where you lose your cool. There are also moments when you’re overjoyed with your child. Then there are moments like this one when you’re just plain confused.

“So you’re telling me that you’re throwing a fit right now because the golf clubs are closer to you than the suitcases?” I said with a bit of a growl in voice.

Sob. “Yes! I want the suitcases to be closer to me so it’s just like last year!”

And thus began year two’s vacation where we frequently heard the phrase, “but last year we ___________ (fill in the blank).

My kids are huge fans of tradition. They savor life and enjoy each season and activity that comes with it. Each fall, they want to make a trip to the same apple orchard. Each Christmas, they want to hang the garland on the banister just like we did the year before. They love each tradition and have big hopes, expectations, and emotions involved in each one.

Speaking of apple orchards… the apple has not fallen very far from the tree. I wish I could say my husband was the tradition-lover who has thus modeled big feelings toward repeating expectations, but he ain’t that tree, folks.

I’m going to have to take the blame on this one. This baggage comes with me.

I love tradition, and I have a lot of hopes riding on expectations. And for many reasons, I’m going to say that’s a fine way to live. We tradition-lovers are also big on noticing and appreciating things, and we are often full of gratitude. If I do say so myself, we can be really lovely people to be around when traditions and plans go as scheduled.

But hitching our hopes to tradition and expectations can sometimes lead to a bumpy ride when plans come unhinged.

Over the years, I’ve had to learn how to recalibrate when it comes to traditions and expectations. Just as an infant is trained to self-soothe when she cries in her crib and no one comes to pick her up immediately, I’ve learned to self-soothe when expectations turn into disappointments. I’ve come to understand that joy can still be found in the changes, even if joy seems to be wearing a disguise.

Our first year in Florida, we went to a beach on a beautiful intercostal waterway where we found about a dozen whole sand dollars. It was amazing, and the kids loved these fragile sea treasures. But on our second trip, when we returned to the same beach, the wind was strong and the choppy water churned in a way that made it impossible to find any sand dollars. The kids were super disappointed.

But, as we walked along a different beach, we found some really cool shark teeth, a treasure we hadn’t found the year before. I capitalized on this and starting saying a five-word phrase each time one of the kids, or myself, would let disappointment creep in over a failed expectation or change.

Sand dollars and shark teeth.

Guys! Think about it! Both are treasures! So we didn’t find sand dollars this year, kids. But, we found shark teeth! How cool is that? It doesn’t have to be just like last time to be good.

“But last year ate at that one restaurant that had the popcorn shrimp!”

Sand dollars and shark teeth.

“But last year we made those apple pies!”

Sand dollars and shark teeth.

“But it’s our tradition to have cinnamon rolls every Christmas morning!”

Sand dollars and shark teeth.

And this doesn’t just help my kids deal with changes and unmet expectations. It helps me!

When my second book launched and it didn’t go the same as the first book had, I repeated “sand dollars and shark teeth” in my mind often. It was a mantra to remind myself that it didn’t have to be just like last time to be successful or good.

When my child’s schoolteacher didn’t run their classroom the same way my older child’s classroom was operated when they were in that same grade, I had to recalibrate. Wait, I thought I knew what to expect and how this was going to work! But it’s okay. Sand dollars and shark teeth.

When holiday plans changed last minute due to illnesses or activities beyond my control my gut reaction was, “this won’t be as good as last year.” But maybe it was. We made new memories! Sand dollars and shark teeth.

I’m going to be honest, Kenzie’s meltdown over not sitting close enough to the suitcases was a little over the top for me. I did not initially understand her response and I got pretty upset with her.

But after a week of finding zero sand dollars and realizing that unmet expectations and change were the reason for her tears, I understood a little more. I didn’t let her off the hook for behaving like she did, but I file the realization away in my mind.

“But, it’s not like last time!” can be baggage that travels with each of us. I get it. I’m a frequent flier in this club. But just because it’s different, changed, or not what we expected doesn’t mean it can’t still be good.

Sand dollars and shark teeth.

Tuck that phrase away in your baggage.

I Care About How My Kids Look During Their Sporting Events.

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When we were kids, my younger brother owned a sweatshirt with words on the front that read,

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you look playing the game.”

Oddly enough, this statement was accompanied by a cartoon penguin wearing a baseball cap. Apparently this image was to help convey the message that we too could look as cool as an athletic penguin while competing in sports. Built-in tuxedo not included.

Regardless of the marketing scheme, I remember the motto. “…it’s how you look playing the game.”

I never really bought into the sentiment.

I’m more for playing the game with determination and grit than winning any style points. But, as I’ve gotten older, and have become a mother to young athletes of my own, I’ve changed my mind a little.

The sentiment has taken on a new meaning to me.

Don’t get me wrong; I care very little about my kids’ appearance on the court or field when it comes to their fashion. The cartoon penguin may have them beat in the “cool” department.

But, I do care about how my children look during their sporting events.

How they look in the manner of what they do.

Because what they do is an overflow of who they are.

For example, if my son accidently collides with an opponent at first base, I’m concerned about what his next actions look like. Will he get up and brush himself off and argue with the umpire over the call? Or will he get up and reach out his hand to help his opponent to his feet? No matter the umpire’s call.

If my daughter is called for a travel on the basketball court, will she slam the ball down and roll her eyes, or toss the ball to the referee and continue to play the game to the best of her ability? Even if she knows in her heart she didn’t travel in the first place.

If my son’s team wins on a buzz beater will he still line up to give the other team high fives and congratulate them for a game well played?

If my son’s team loses a heartbreaker, and he’s the one to miss the game-deciding free throw, will he still believe his life is no less valuable than it was twenty minutes before?

You see, how my kids look during their athletic competitions is the indicator of who they are that I can see as their mother. Their actions are an overflow of their heart. Their responses and reactions to the game show me their character.

And as their mom, I care deeply about their character.

Matthew 12:34b says, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”

I want them to be children who value kindness more than victory. Empathy more than points. Integrity more than statistics. Sportsmanship more than sports.

I want them to look their coaches in the eye and truly listen to their instruction. I want them to be respectful to the referees, as well as to their own teammates, and opponents. In victory, or in defeat.

Don’t get me wrong. I want them to win. They get their competitive nature from both their dad and me. And it’s a pretty strong one at that! But, as much as I want them to win, I care about their character even more.

The games will end. The scoreboard lights will be turned off. But who my kids are, as a result of what they learn on the court, will remain. And that’s how I ultimately define winning now.

I guess how they look playing the game is pretty important to me now.

Too bad I don’t have one of those penguin sweatshirts to wear to their games.


This article originally appeared as a guest post on the Winning Women website: “Connecting and Equipping the Female in Sport.”

Just visiting.

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The pictures in my iPhoto library scrolled in front of my eyes like credits rolling on a screen at the end of a movie. Only faster.

I was feeling a little uneasy in my stomach. Granted, I could have been getting motion sick from the quick movement (No, really. I’m serious. This happened to me once at the library in the 1990’s while looking at microfiche), but the real fact of the matter was that I was nauseous from nostalgia. Sick from sentimentality. Pained from pondering.

You get the idea.

I had to sort through the memories for a reason. All three of my children have had the same woman as their kindergarten teacher. My youngest is now “graduating” from kindergarten, and our tenure in her class is over. Just like that.

This teacher is amazing, and in an effort to make her a gift containing a photo of her with each of my kids when they were in her class, I had to search through approximately 12 billion photos in hopes to find three. Eventually, I did find them, but in the searching, I found many more that pulled on my heart strings.

My now twelve-year-old’s third birthday party with the Thomas the Tank Engine cake that I spent HOURS making.

My now eight-year-old’s first pigtails.

My soon-to-be first grader’s birth. The first time her siblings held her in their arms.

Chubby cheeks.

Little toes.

Birthday parties. First days of schools.

My seven-year-old’s store-bought birthday cake.

The time my girls got their pigtails cut off to donate to children in need of wigs.

The three of them arm in arm at a baseball game.

I found myself lost in a world of memories, yet feeling like these events had happened in my life almost as quickly as the photos on the screen were whizzing past me.

And in a few more minutes, it seems they’ll be more photos in the camera roll.

Graduations.

Weddings.

Grandkids.

Another generation of chubby cheeks and little toes.

More firsts. More lasts.

The knot in my stomach was now fully tied.

The moments of this life are so fleeting. I try to hold on to them. To keep them. To at least make them slow their pace.

I mentally place the events in my bucket as I cross the firsts and lasts off my list. But I must have a hole in my bucket because as fast as they pile higher, they’re gone.

Each moment is only here for a visit. No, they can’t linger for long. The are just passing through.

But regardless, I’m going to keep inviting the moments of life in. I’ll keep putting them in my bucket, my iPhoto library, and my heart.

And I’ll enjoy each visit, for as long as it lasts.


This post is part of the Five Minute Friday community where bloggers are encouraged to write for about 5 minutes based on a one-word prompt. This week’s word: VISIT

 

Snail Spa

I’ve heard it said that no lake vacation is complete without a man-made snail habitat. Er, something like that. But I can’t argue with the saying, because it certainly rang true for us.

While spending a week with our extended family, my daughters and their cousin not only discovered the snails in the shallow water of the lake, but “rescued” them and carried them a good twenty feet from the water to our deck railing. The girls then spent hours caring for the snails and building a natural habitat out of paper bowls, water from a squirt gun, leaves, scissors, and dish soap.

Of course the scissors and leaves were part of the snail clothing design unit and not so much the living quarters, but useful nonetheless.

The habitat was complete and the snails were quite spoiled with their own bathtubs, showers, and even a hot tub. I can’t speak for the snails, but who could really dislike such a variety of hygiene and relaxation options?

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As I watched the girls bathe the snails for the forty-second time it occurred to me that as parents we really don’t need to create fun for our kids as often as we think we do. Sure, sometimes it’s good to play a family board game or a round of “I Spy” in the car, but most of the time, kids just need a little freedom and maybe some Palmolive.

It’s a delight to watch a child’s imagination at work and to see their little hands design and create- even if it leaves you with a mess and a few less paper bowls in your stash.


This post is was inspired by the Five Minute Friday blogging community where bloggers are invited to write about a topic for about 5 minutes based on a one-word prompt. To see more of this week’s post from other bloggers visit here: http://katemotaung.com/2016/07/14/five-minute-friday-create/

This week’s prompt: CREATE

8 Things My Dad Taught Me

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It happened again just recently. A new friend was asking about my family and when she learned that my dad was the pastor at a local church she said, “Oh! You’re Denny’s daughter?!”

Yep. I’m Denny’s daughter. I’ve been known that way all of my life.

It used to get on my nerves to be known as “Denny’s Daughter” instead of just as Christy. I have an identity outside of being the pastor’s kid, you know. But, I have to admit that being called Denny’s Daughter has grown on me over the years. It’s a title I’m honored to carry.

I’ve learned a lot from having my dad as my pastor for more than three decades. What a blessing it has been to sit under his ministry. However, it’s been even more of a blessing to grow up sitting around his kitchen table. Sure, I’ve learned things in church, but I’ve learned even more while riding in a Toyota Previa mini-van and while playing video games as a family in the basement as a teenager.

I’ve been so fortunate to grow up with such a wise dad. He’s taught me many things. And so today, in honor of Father’s Day, I thought I’d sit down and list a few.

8 Things My Dad Taught Me

8. Trust Earns Freedom.

My Dad always told me that if he could trust me, then I could earn freedom to do what I wanted to do. For example, if I wanted to go places on my own after getting my driver’s license, then I could earn the right to do so in increasing measure. If I was told to only go to my friend’s house and then home again- I’d better follow the rules. If I did, then maybe next time I’d have the privilege to drive somewhere else as well. If I had a 10pm curfew and I respected the clock and got home on time, then I’d be given a later curfew in the future. It was pretty simple. If I could be trusted to follow directions, then I would be given more freedom over time. I always liked that, because I knew the opportunity for more freedom and privilege was possible and it made me desire to be responsible.

7. Get Your Head in the Game!

I have to admit (embarrassingly) that I can clearly remember my dad yelling this phrase to me during one of my middle school basketball games… and I had no idea what he meant! Get my head in the game? What on earth is he talking about? Of course now I understand that he was telling me to be mentally present on the court and to think about what I was doing. Where did I need to be? Where was the ball going to be next? How should I react to this play, that pass, that shot? I needed to be mentally present and not allowing my mind to be thinking about something else when I should be focused on the game at hand.

That advice has stuck with me long after my basketball career (and I use the term ‘basketball career’ very, very loosely!) I’ve often thought about hearing my dad yell “Get Your Head in the Game!” while working on various tasks throughout my life. Whether it be studying for a final in college, planning an event in my first job out of college, or having an important conversation with one of my children, I need to be mentally present and focused on the task at hand.

6. The Apple products don’t fall far from the tree.

We’ve always joked that my dad is so far on the cutting edge of technology that he’s bleeding. The man loves his technology and he LOVES Apple products. We were getting email in our house growing up (I can still hear that noisy old modem and the voice from AOL saying, “You’ve Got Mail!”) before most of society knew what email was. My dad talked me into buying an iPod before most bands had probably heard of iTunes. And, my dad gave me a laptop in college and encouraged me to carry it to class to take notes.

“Dad, that is so embarrassing!” I said. “Nobody else carries a computer to class!” But it turns out he was on to something there. It seems that now several (million) people have laptops and carry them with them on college campuses.

And Dad’s love for the Apple product has truly been passed on to me. What’s that other kind of computer called? Window something?

5. You are very special, but don’t think too highly of yourself.

Humility is a trait that I’ve always noticed in my dad. He’s not one to “toot his own horn” and I appreciate that about him. I remember being taught a lesson in humility from my dad when I was a freshman in High School. It’s a lesson I’ll never forget, and yet my dad didn’t even say a single word. He didn’t have to.

I was playing on the JV basketball team as a 9th grader, but one week the JV team didn’t have a game so I was bumped down to play with the Freshman Squad… at least “bumped down” was how I saw it. I was proud of the fact that I’d played JV and I was wrongfully quite full of myself during that freshman game. In fact, I’m embarrassed to tell you that during a time-out our coach called a huddle and I stood about 10 feet outside of the huddle thinking that I didn’t need to hear whatever it was that the coach had to say. (Ugh!) I remember tipping my head back to squirt my water bottle into my mouth and when I did my eyes drifting up into the bleachers. There sat my parents and my eyes locked with my dad’s eyes. Not a word was spoken verbally, but I could hear a paragraph’s worth of words coming from Dad’s eyes. That was all it took. I walked into the huddle and changed my attitude from that moment forward.

4. If the ship is sinking and there’s something we can do to help, we’re going to try to fix the problem… or we’re going down with the ship!

In the early years of my dad’s pastorate at our current church, the church building was tiny. As the church grew in membership it also needed to grow in size and so we experienced several building programs. I remember one time in particular that it had been announced that the new building and all of it’s sparkly new classrooms would be ready to open on a certain Sunday. The day before it was to open Dad got a phone call that things were almost ready, but there hadn’t been time to clean the carpets or new rooms and move in the furniture so we’d have to delay the opening for at least another week.

My dad told us to get in the van and off we went to spend a Saturday at the church. We vacuumed, cleaned, moved furniture and more to prepare the rooms, just in time, for church the next day. Dad told us that cleaning toilets was not below the senior pastor’s duty and if we could expend a little elbow grease to help the situation then we were going to do it. We were going to do something to help or go down trying. I’ve never forgotten that Saturday or the lesson I learned.

3. When in doubt, don’t.

I can remember my dad telling me that if I wasn’t sure about saying something or doing something, than I’d better not because it can never be taken back. I often take that into consideration before saying something I’m not 100% sure I should say. I think it’s saved me some heartache over the years and I’m grateful for that.

2. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Life is going to be rough if you can’t learn to laugh at yourself. And laughter is one thing I’ve certainly done… both with and at my dad.

One time when I was in college our extended family rented a house on a large lake for week. We decided to also rent some wave runners. All of the potential wave runner drivers had to go attend a short “class” and watch an instructional video about how to operate the wave runner. The video stressed multiple times that there are no brakes on a wave runner. You must stop pulling the throttle and allow time for the wave runner to slow to a stop. I repeat, there are NO BRAKES on a wave runner.

Yeah, yeah. We signed the papers and rented that thing and off we went. Dad was driving and I was riding along behind him. We were flying through the water and we went into a channel where there were several homes with piers in the water. Did I mention that we were going really fast? Did I also mention that they had stressed to us that the wave runner has no brakes. Well, apparently Dad didn’t catch that part because he drove us way too close to one of the piers and when he tried to brake (um… yeah, you know.) we SLAMMED into one of the pier’s wooden ladders and that ladder exploded. After we shook the shock out of our heads we looked around to see hundreds of pieces of wood floating on the water and a huge gaping hole where the ladder once was. Ooops.

We still laugh about that today. And I am thankful that I am alive to tell you about it. Seriously Dad, you’ve got to pay attention during the safety class next time. (And to whoever’s pier we crashed into… we’re sorry about your ladder.)

1. My dad is not perfect, but he’s taught me about my Heavenly Father, who is.

As I’ve written about before in “One of My Worst Moments,” my dad had the wisdom and courage to teach me the most valuable lesson of all during the worst moment of his life. His wife, my mom, had just died suddenly at our kitchen table at the age of 34. As we stood around her body in a sterile hospital room, my dad reminded me that God was still in control and that He loved us and had a plan for us. If God is good during the worst moment imaginable, then He is good. I can trust my Heavenly Father, and I do, because of my earthly father’s wonderful example in that moment and throughout my life.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I love you!

After the Cancer Diagnosis: 5 Things I Learned When My Son Got Really Sick

k31_2I have to admit that sometimes I still cringe when people refer to me as a “Cancer Mom.”

I never signed up to join that club. The cost to join is enormous. But, join it I did on February 9th, 2007 when my then-two-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia.

To say that the journey of helping a child through cancer treatments is a long, tough road is an understatement. It’s just plain rotten.

And, though it’s been several years now since my son finished his chemotherapy treatments in 2010, I still can clearly remember the questions and emotions that arose within during the deepest trenches of his journey.

I’m far from an expert, but  I am a Cancer Mom. And so today I share five things I learned when my son got really sick.

1. The learning curve is steep, but you can make the climb!

The overwhelming days right after diagnosis

I’ve never felt more overwhelmed or confused in my life than the first few days of my son’s diagnosis.

I do not have any kind of a medical background, so when the nurses would say phrases such as “Ped’s Hem/Onc” and “We’re going to do an LP to administer IM,” I wasn’t sure if we were still speaking English. It’s okay. You’re not alone.

There is SO much to learn about blood counts, medications, clinical trials, doctors, Child Life… even where to park at each visit to the hospital—it’s overwhelming. But, you can do it! There are no learners more eager than parents wanting to help their child.

ASK QUESTIONS! Write them down and take notes. You may even feel like you’ve earned a medical degree by the time it’s all over… but come to think of it, I never have received my diploma in the mail.

2. Your doctor’s name is not Google.

I love to read and follow various blogs and news sites. And, when my son was first  diagnosed I was so tempted to “Google” every symptom he presented. I wanted to know statistics and treatment plan expectations, etc. I think research is wonderful and statistics are helpful overall, but when you’re running on little sleep and your heart is broken, it’s better to get your information straight from the doctors and nurses that are caring specifically for your child.

Sometimes too much information at your fingertips can only lead to confusion, fear and frustration.

3. YOU are your child’s biggest advocate. Speak up!!

Healthcare professionals are superstars. They are invaluable, awesome heroes who help us throughout our child’s illness. But they are human.

Sometimes the people taking care of your child might be making a decision they feel is best, but you have a hunch that there is a better option. SAY IT! You are your child’s biggest advocate and you must speak up. Doctors and nurses appreciate parents and guardians who take a proactive role in their child’s care. Listen, ask questions, listen some more, and then share your opinions and follow through with the care plan.

4. Make the most of it.

If we’re being honest here, we all know that being a parent of a child with cancer is no joyride. At times it’s just plain crushing to your spirit. But, there are ways to make the most of the journey—even if it’s not how you would have designed your moments of joy.

My son loves trains and so for three years of our life we rode the People Mover train between Riley Hospital for Children and other nearby hospitals in the IU Health system. Back and forth, back and forth. It’s free, and honestly, it’s less than thrilling, but to my son that was something to look forward to each time we went to Riley. We found joy in that crazy monorail.

At home, there were nights when my son would wake up starving at 2:30 a.m. because of being on steroids. I never dreamed I’d be making mashed potatoes and chicken nuggets in the middle of the night for a chubby, bald, demanding toddler. But, looking back, I  remember some of those moments with actual fondness. Sitting across from a little boy who couldn’t shove the food into his mouth fast enough in a quiet, still house was actually kind of precious. We talked together and made memories.

It is possible to make the most of even the darkest nights.

5. Find something to be thankful for every day.

Some days it may be really hard to find something to be thankful for if you’re watching your child suffer, but it’s not impossible. And, I’ve found that gratitude takes up a lot of room in your heart and tends to push out some of the less-attractive emotions.

Look around. What do you see that you are thankful for today? Is it something as simple as a short hug or conversation with fellow cancer parents down the hall? Is it the fact that we have access to world-class care and medications in our country – and right in our home state? Is it the sparkly sticker that a volunteer stuck on your child’s hospital gown, earning a smile from your precious patient?

The fact is, no matter how bad you have it, there is probably someone who has it worse.

Even if you have to phone a friend for help, try to find something to be thankful for every day.

Parenting and Other Health Hazards

A couple of years ago, about three months after giving birth to my third child, we were on vacation with my side of the family. We were on a beautiful lake for the week and I accomplished what I surmised to be a great feat. I water skied. It wasn’t pretty, but I got up on skis while family members, including my husband, helped corral our three little ones in the boat.

After my short ride I remember climbing back into the boat (which is almost another feat in itself) with legs that felt like jello. I flopped down next to my cousin, who was not yet married at the time and had no children. After I’d caught my breath I told him that I was tired, but glad I was able to ski just three months after having my third baby. My cousin thought about that for a minute and then he asked me a question. “How long does it take to recover from having a baby?”,  he said.

While my mouth was answering rather matter-of-factly, as I explained that you don’t go back to your doctor for your post-postpartum check-up for at least 6 weeks, my brain was saying, “Wait! Is this a trick question?!” Because really the answer to when you recover from having a baby is, um…. NEVER!

And when it comes down to it, once you’ve successfully added an infant to your life that’s not the beginning of your recovery…that’s just the beginning of the health hazards.  And to further that thought, once your children get bigger, so do the health hazards! I was reminded of this fact just this week when my poor husband got whacked in the head by our two-year-old who was wielding a plastic mermaid. And though being hit in the head with a mermaid may sound somewhat light and comical, judging by my husband’s reaction, it’s not as funny as it sounds.

Oh, there are many health hazards to having children.

Let’s see… there’s the lower back pain that comes from lugging an awkward infant car seat all over town. There’s the kink you get in your neck from half-turning around while driving to feel around on the floor behind you for the dropped must-have toy. Have you heard of “Tennis Elbow?” Well, how about “Diaper Bag Shoulder?” There’s the neck and back pain associated with children who hang on your arms while you’re standing and talking with other grown-ups (or trying to!) And that pain only worsens when the children pick up their feet and hang with all their body weight while holding on to two of your fingers and then landing on your pinky toe when they finally crash to the ground.

I’m just getting started here! The health hazards continue. There’s the sleep deprivation… the eating of ABC food (yes, “already been chewed”… and spit out by a toddler)…the cleaning of dropped pacifiers by “rinsing” them in your own glass of ice water….the inhalation of sour air until you find the sippy cup full of curdled milk under your van’s back seat…the agonizing foot and ankle pain when you step on wooden train wheels or Barbie hair brushes….the fingernails that get bent backwards while trying to unfold the stroller. What woman can forget the sharp pain associated with a baby pulling on their dangling earring. And men…well they get treated like human jungle gyms without the benefit of a recess monitor to keep things civilized.

Then there’s the hazard we parents face of extreme weather conditions as we bundle everyone from head to toe and go out forgetting our own coat. Our own personal hygiene suffers in general. Who has the time?!

And speaking of hygiene, I’m afraid one day I may accidentally poison myself by putting deodorant on my lips and lipstick on my underarms because I’m so distracted in the bathroom. I’m almost never in there alone!

And what about the health hazards of having to jump off the diving board at the local neighborhood pool in front of a dozen other Moms and Dads because your son is begging you… oh wait, that was a hazard to my pride… but anyway.

There are many health hazards to parenting. But let me tell you which ones are the most serious. There are some hazards from which you’ll never recover.

One, you’re a goner when you experience the bursting feeling in your heart the first time you watch your child make a good decision without you having to prompt them. Your poor heart will flutter as you watch your child’s eyes sparkle as they see one of their dreams come true. Your eyes will water and nose will tingle as you realize your child doesn’t need (or want) to hold your hand anymore when walking into school. Your head will spin with worry as you hear news that your child is sick or hurting. You’ll melt and become weak at the knees when your little toddler sweetly says big words like “Hippopotamus.” Your bones will ache with love as you stare at your child sleeping peacefully. Your breath will catch in your throat as warm, chubby little cheeks burrow up against your neck. And frankly, you’ll never be the same.

Yes, parenting is definitely a hazard to your health. It’s not for the feeble. And if you survive the infant stage then hold on, and maybe buy a helmet, because it’s only going to get worse!

Yes, it’s true, you’ll never fully recover once you’ve had a baby. And if you’re like me, you’ll never want to!

Bear Cub on a Barbie Bike

Down the street my little bear cub rode on the pretty, pink and purple Barbie bike with it’s matching girly training wheels. It should have been ever so cute.

But it wasn’t.

The bear cub on the bike wasn’t my little, pigtailed, feminine three-year-old, but instead her tall-for-his-age seven-year-old brother. His knees came up above the handlebars with every turn of the pedals. The training wheels gradually bent upward as his body weight tipped from one side to the other. His red helmet clashed with the pink and purple paint. And frankly, he looked pretty ridiculous.

My bear cub on a Barbie bike.

I call him my bear cub because he’s my son and because I turned into a Mother Bear that afternoon. I guess if I’m being honest with myself, I’ve been a protective and fiercely loving Mother Bear for seven years.

That’s really the whole problem here.

You see, when our son was a toddler he was very ill and endured over three years of chemotherapy after a devastating leukemia diagnosis. During that time we hibernated. I was a Mother Bear with a sick little cub and I did all that I could to keep him safe and sound while he healed. Our hibernation did not include bike rides because they could lead to falls and scrapes and bruises, especially for a child who often had low platelets and was very fragile. And since he never asked to ride a bike, we simply didn’t put him on one.

Today he’s a healthy and strong young man who was the tallest child in his first grade class. He plays basketball and baseball and swims like a fish. He’s big for his age and you’d never know by looking at him that he fought cancer as a preschooler. He’s growing up right before our eyes.

But he still can’t ride a bike.

And one thing he learned in first grade was that his friends can.

Now he knows what he’s missing and he wants to learn… desperately enough that he was willing to ride his little sister’s girly bike.  We’d tried his own bigger and boyish bike over and over again to no avail. He just didn’t have the experience of riding a smaller bike to know what it felt like to balance without training wheels. My husband even tried putting training wheels on his bike, but bikes built for 82 pound kids just aren’t made for training wheels.

So there we were on a sunny Sunday afternoon going down the sidewalk in our neighborhood. My son on the bike and me walking behind with my eyebrows raised and jaw clenched… just waiting for the poor training wheels to finally burst off and the exhausted bike with it’s rider collapsing to the ground. But, that did not happen. In fact, he did very well. Granted he had to get off the bike every once in a while to kick the bent training wheels back down so they’d reach the ground, but otherwise it was smooth sailing.

Until he rode by a yard full of kids.

Now, thankfully my little bear cub kept pedaling on and was completely oblivious to the conversation that took place amongst his peers. But I wasn’t. I was walking far enough behind that by the time I got to the kids I could hear their laughter, see their pointing and understand their mocking comments about the big boy riding a small pink bike. And oh, did my Mother Bear instincts kick in! I kept on walking and kept my mouth shut, but I sure wanted to go give those little kids a grizzly piece of my mind!

I held on to my tongue that day, and other days my husband and I held on to the back of my son’s bike desperately trying to help him learn to balance.

But it’s hard to know when to let go.

I probably should have let go years ago and allowed my little cub to ride a bike, even though it was scary for his mother. I probably am not a good one to help him learn to ride his big bike now because I’m afraid to let go and watch him fall.

But I can’t hold on forever… it wouldn’t be healthy if I did.

In fact, I’ve had to let go more often. I’ve had to let go of his bike and I’ve had to let go, albeit ever so gradually, of my children. It’s good for them to learn to ride a bike, even when they fall and get hurt. It’s good for them to grow up and become more independent and confident, even when it hurts my heart.

It’s hard to know when to hold on and when to let go.

But it seems like letting go is necessary. I’m going to have to send my children off to scary places… like second grade… and heaven forbid, middle school and high school. It’s why I get choked up at the end of Toy Story 3 when Andy’s toys are all waving goodbye to him as he heads off to college. I’m just afraid I’m not going to handle my own kids growing up with the grace and poise of Buzz Lightyear.

But grow up they will. I really wouldn’t want it any other way. But it’s hard. And I know those who have children who they have watched graduate from High School, enter the work force, and walk down the aisle, laugh at me and think I ain’t seen nothing yet.

So please, don’t remind me. I must take this one day at a time. One letting go at a time.

I’ve stopped hibernating now and I’m doing better at allowing my little bear cubs to roam on their own and grow to be more independent and confident.

And Barbie bikes, high school graduations, or wedding days, I pray that this Mother Bear will enjoy both the holding on and the letting go as my bear cubs grow up before my Mother Bear eyes.

What Time Is It?

My education formally stopped with my college bachelor’s degree. However, since becoming a parent I feel as if I should be receiving continuing eduction credits. I’m earning a PhD in L.I.F.E. The syllabus is all over the place. Subjects and tests vary from day to day… ok, minute to minute. But there’s something about being a Mom that’s haphazardly educational. Sometimes all I have to do is listen to the things that come out of my own mouth as I’m teaching my children. I accidentally make statements that resonate in my brain and teach me more about life. If only I could get extra credit somewhere!

I’ve known that being a parent is helpful in teaching. You see I grew up as a pastor’s kid. My parents had two sermon illustrations…. er, I mean kids… and I grew accustomed to hearing about how my brother and my comments or actions would turn into a teachable moment from the platform. Now I’ve got three little life exhibits of my own. They teach me so much.

Just this week my youngest child has been posing a question to me. And if you’re a parent, or if you’ve ever spent significant time with a two-year-old, you know that toddlers are champions at posing questions. They have question posing stamina that can outlast any willing subject.

My little girl has been repeatedly asking me, “What time is it?”

Now, mind you, she just turned two and she has absolutely no concept of how a clock functions or what the time even means. I could answer her with the literal time, military time, or say it’s two bananas past a cantaloupe and she’d be none the wiser. So the fact that she keeps asking me what time it is has become sort of funny… and a tad bit annoying.

I started by answering her straight. She kept asking. I changed over to sarcasm asking her if she had something on her calendar or an appointment she didn’t want to miss. She kept asking. Finally, I became inpatient and uttered, “If I told you it wouldn’t make sense to you anyway!”

And there it is.

There’s one of those educational statements that I accidentally pulled from my maternal arsenal. “If I told you it wouldn’t make sense to you anyway!”

Hmmm… I think I’ve heard that one before. I’ve heard it from my earthly father and I’ve understood it from my Heavenly Father. In my life, when things happen that I don’t understand, I become a champion question poser. With persistence and frustration I call out to God saying, “Why?” “Who?” “When?” “What?!”

And I know a statement sometimes needs to come into play. A reminder from my Heavenly Father that, “If I told you it wouldn’t make sense to you anyway!”

Job certainly learned this lesson. If you read about him in the book of Job in the Old Testament you see a man whose life gets tragically turned upside down. He loses his children, livestock and health. He spends chapters angry with God and he poses the question of “Why.” Later in chapter 38, God responds by posing some questions of His own.

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

“Who is this that obscures my plans
    with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?

“Who shut up the sea behind doors
    when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
    and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
    and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
    here is where your proud waves halt’?

And it goes on and on… Basically God is telling Job, “If I told you it wouldn’t make sense to you anyway!”

I know that my little girl doesn’t really need to know what time it is because I’ve got it taken care of. I know where she needs to be and what she needs to do. I’m the keeper of the clock in our relationship and she just has to go with the flow. Wow, again, what a correlation to my relationship with my Heavenly Father. He’s the “keeper of clock” if there ever was one! He’s got it taken care of. He knows what I need to do and when and all I have to do is go with it… and trust Him.

Thankfully God is not inpatient or easily worn down by our questions. He’s stable. He not only knows the answer but He’s Truth itself. He’s got it covered. As He tells Job, it’s waaaay bigger than my feeble little mind could understand. I just have to go about my childlike faith and trust Him. I’ve got the easy end of the deal.

So, the next time my toddler asks me what time it is I’m going to take the time to thank God for being in control. He continues to teach me more about life and about Himself through the children He’s given me. And I know that in this continuing education I’m getting I’m going to get some answers wrong and I won’t get all perfect scores. But I’m going to stay in the program and be open to what He’s teaching and where He’s leading.

Who knows, I might just graduate Summa Cum Laude.