I’m Upbeat

For better or worse, I tend to put a lot of thought into words. Even though two words can mean the exact same thing, I’ll weigh the options. Here’s an example: take the words “grumpy” and “irritable.” If I say, “I’m grumpy today,” I have said that I am in an unpleasant mood but it will pass and don’t take me too seriously. But if I say, “I’m irritable,” I convey that I am an easily angered person on a regular basis or I have some kind of condition, like a chemical imbalance or PMS. Words can technically mean the same thing but feel very different. And I get really stuck on them. If you give me a blank piece of paper and a pen and tell me to sit still for twenty minutes, you won’t find me doodling. When I was in elementary and middle school, my friends were professionals at doodles and bubble letters….and I was good at making word collages.

“Give me a topic, any topic, and I can make you a word collage!” Okay, I never said that. But I sure did think it.

Because I’m one of those people that thinks a bit too hard on words, I come across some words that rub me the wrong way. For example, I used to have major trouble with the word “upbeat.” When I heard it, I always thought of someone who ignores deeper issues, who acts like everything is okay no matter what, and who wears a kind of fake smile.  I thought of someone who frowns a bit when someone in a group stirs up a discussion and says, “We try to keep things upbeat here.”

Until recently, I’ve been pretty unkind in my thoughts towards “upbeat.”

Then something changed. It happened in January, that hallowed month of new beginnings. I was rethinking the way my days went, and one of the things I started realizing was that words I had always liked, such as “melancholy” and “pensive” and “soulful” were not really fitting me anymore. The thing is, you can’t really wake up each morning and expect to mother two happy children if you think of yourself as “soulful.” You have to think more along the lines of “optimistic” and “cheerful” if you expect cheerful children. I knew I was going to have to start identifying with different words. I may naturally be a more quietly active, contemplative person, but it was time to think of myself as more. It was time to start realizing I had become, and needed to keep becoming, a person who was more than those words I formerly used to define myself.

Like it or not, everyone knows that moms set the tone. I’ve known this since I was a little girl. Remember how everything felt off kilter when your mom needed a sick day or you could tell she was preoccupied with some inner worry? I remember that very well. I saw it in my own daughter’s eyes last week when her eyes filled with tears after I told her I didn’t feel like dancing with her right then because I had a stomach ache. It’s a minor illness to me, but it’s worrisome and tragic to her. And mothers seek to avert all tragedies, real or merely perceived.

January was when I started getting out of bed, facing the rainy winter day, and giving myself a mental pep talk. I would remind myself that every day is a gift, even January days, that my children would remember the feel of the days more than the things we did. I would try to remind myself of my bigger goals, like how I want them to be able to make believe and play with whatever was at hand. And I wanted to keep the TV off as much as possible. In these pep talks, I found myself speaking new words into my identity. “You are fun,” I’d say to myself. “You are full of grace and joy.” “You are giving and forgiving and open minded. You are not afraid of messes.” “You are magnanimous.” (Ha).

But none of these new, lofty words stuck like the dreaded “upbeat.” I started finding myself saying it all the time, kind of like a mantra. Upbeat. You are upbeat. I would remind myself of that when we ran out of milk and diapers again and had to go to the store,  as I bundled up the kids and herded them into the car: “just stay upbeat!” At first, I wanted to slap my forehead every time my inner consciousness told me to be upbeat. Then, I realized the word wasn’t going away. It had stuck as one of the key new words in my new mental word collage of who I am.

The great thing about word collages is that you can always add another word. I can add new ideas and character qualities without erasing who I am deep down inside. I’ll probably always be a person who is capable of living inside of herself for long stretches of time and not speaking a word for hours on end. I’ll always love a quiet walk on a lonely country road or an uninterrupted hour to read. But I like to think I’m expanding at the same time. I can enjoy running in a sprinkler outside. I can hide in a blanket fort with kids and tell stories. I can make the Lego men talk about the awesome trucks my son builds for them. I can make my kids giggle and shout with laughter during a pillow fight. I am becoming more playful, more energetic. More upbeat. It’s not always easy, but I hope to keep making progress on my mental word collage as I open myself up to claiming not only the identity I was born with but also the identity I was created to adopt. I’m sure there are plenty of other character qualities I need to adopt into my identity, but for now, I’m happy to be upbeat.

Like this post? You may also like Your Kids Have a Crush on You and Saturyet.

Saturyet

Hello! Welcome to Saturyet. I know you thought today was Friday. Friday has been cancelled. Now we’re in the magical in between day when it’s definitely not Friday but Saturday is yet to come. On Saturyet, oil changes do not take all morning. On Saturyet, diapers do not leak at 10:00 a.m. and end what was supposed to be a full day of errands. Or at least if they do, on Saturyet, mothers remember to replenish the emergency set of clothing that should be in the diaper bag. Children play nicely together with little to no assistance from their overly busy mother. They do not beg for a mile when they’re given an inch. On Saturyet, the cupboards can be bare of anything that actually constitutes “dinner” and nobody feels like she has to rush to the grocery store. Aldi doesn’t exist when it’s Saturyet. Saturyet is for staying in bed when you feel under the weather. Or for skipping town on a day trip to the beach when the sky clears after a week of rain. Saturyet is a break from the existence that starts to feel so petty and mundane, it becomes bone crushing.

If only Saturyet existed. A break from reality. But this is reality, and in reality Saturyet’s name is Denial. Bummer. I liked Saturyet better.

Are you wondering if I am dealing with depression? I don’t think I am. From what I can tell, most mothers and pretty much every person has days when so many little things go wrong in a single day that it just seems like the day should be scrapped. There have been no real tragedies, but the day just doesn’t seem redeemable. You’ve snapped at your kids a few too many times. You’ve forgotten a few too many important details. You can’t unfurrow your brow.

Okay, maybe that’s just me. But if you are a mom and you’ve ever felt that way, I have some books you should read.

The one that most recently rocked my socks off is Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sarah Mae and Sally Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to BreatheClarkson. Sarah Mae is a mother of young children and Sally Clarkson is her wise mentor. I really liked the blended perspective of someone who is in the midst of mothering small ones and someone who has four children who are nearly grown. So many times parenting books don’t seem to really “get it.” They’re too removed from the fray. Or maybe they just can’t be honest. But Sarah Mae is definitely honest. She banishes pride and shares weaknesses because she wants to truly encourage, not just exhort. She wants moms to know they’re not alone in their struggles. I, for one, really appreciate her honesty. And I appreciate her wisdom to know that things are hard but it’s all worth it and there’s a way to do your best. Your best is worth fighting for and pursuing. One of the greatest things about this book is that Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson talk about the importance of being an individual as you are a mother and sharing your own delights and passions with your children. Parenting gurus always say that no two children are alike, but they don’t often say that no two parents are alike. If you put a completely unique child (or three) together with a completely unique parent or two, you’re going to get a combination that requires figuring out every time. Probably multiple times. So I appreciate Sarah Mae’s and Clarkson’s position that parents should come at parenting with the decision to do their very best while at the same time acknowledging their passions and quirks as part of who they are as a parent and not part of who they were before becoming a parent. And that’s just a tiny bit of the book. It’s great.

Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the TrenchesWhen my daughter was about two years old, several of my friends said I absolutely had to read Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic. I’m so glad I have such bossy friends. Just kidding. They weren’t bossy. And I really did love the book. It is made up of “vignettes” or small snippets of mothering days and weeks and years. Jankovic writes with humor, and we all know that humor is a must when it comes to parenting. She also is very perceptive, and seems to look through some of the issues that come up with children and see the underlying problem. I would approach some things as “just a phase,” but she sees it as an opportunity to build character and guide towards lasting salvation. All the while, she keeps it light and readable. The sequel, Fit to Burst, is more of the same delightful stuff. They’re both tiny books, ones that didn’t actually take me that long to read.

The Mission of Motherhood: Touching Your Child's Heart for EternityI found Sally Clarkson’s The Mission of Motherhood to be really helpful in that she is good at laying out a sort of road map for her mothering journey. Clarkson is big into planning and setting aside time to write goals down. Her form of mothering is very intentional and focused on the actual people and not the methods. And it was encouraging to see how much she could accomplish through setting concrete priorities. I have read three books by Clarkson now, and this is my favorite one of hers so far.

Sparkly Green Earrings: Catching the Light at Every TurnAnd if you’re looking for a book to just lighten your mood, you should read Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie Shankle. I laughed my way through it in two days. There are some teary moments thrown in there, too. It’s almost like a gift to read a book that combines funny with thoughtful and doesn’t tear anybody down while doing it. Funny in our culture is so often delivered in the form of ridicule. This book is funny and encouraging.

Mitten Strings for God: Reflections  for Mothers in a HurryAnd here’s a book with a horrible title: Mitten Strings for God. Oh my. It makes you think you’re going to read a bunch of little daily quotes, ala Chicken Soup for the Freezing Soul. I never would have picked this book up, but a blogger who’s mothering style I really appreciate (Sarah from memoriesoncloverlane.com) repeatedly mentions in, so I decided it was worth a try. And it was! It was about quieting down our busyness and to do lists and focusing more on being present for our children. Katrina Kenison writes as someone who hasn’t forgotten what childhood is like. She recommends things like making sure your children have a secret place. Doesn’t that sound delightful? It’s a peaceful but inspiring book to reflect on.

What’s on your list of favorite mom books?

Books for Little Boys

I am from an all girl family. I have two younger sisters, but no brothers. When we found out our first child was a girl, I was excited and, to be honest, rather relieved. Because what would I do with a boy? Being a mom to a little girl came pretty naturally. But then…oh, but then…I was about 85% sure about two months into my second pregnancy that I was having a boy. There were none of those signs you hear about like carrying the baby lower or higher or being sicker than last time or anything at all. The pregnancies were pretty much the same (speaking of weird signs, that one about heartburn being related to babies  who have lots of hair? It’s bogus. Both my babies had dark, thick, brown hair, and I had no heartburn whatsoever. I just had to let all two of you who care know that.).  But I was pretty sure I was having a boy. When the ultrasound confirmed it, I was very excited, but I was also a little apprehensive. How do I raise a little boy? And what’s even more daunting, what do I read to a little boy?

Just kidding, there are many parts of parenting a boy that make me feel more nervous than what books to read him. But it is something I had to figure out! So I thought I’d share what I’ve discovered so far as I read books to my son, Isaac, and watch his love of reading grow.

As a side note, my daughter really enjoys most of these books, too. Little girls like trucks! It was a revelation to me.

Farmer John's TractorI’ll be honest, I may love Farmer John’s Tractor by Sally Sutton more than my children do. It gives me a nostalgic feeling, and I don’t know why because it’s based in New Zealand and I have definitely never been there. Maybe it’s from watching all of those All Creatures Great and Small episodes with my parents when I was little that are set on Yorkshire sheep farms. Whatever the reason for my nostalgia, my kids really do love it, too. Read it on a rainy day and let your kids go out and splash in puddles on their bikes afterwards.

My Truck is Stuck!My friend recommended My Truck is Stuck to me because her two-year-old boy loved it (thanks, Jessica!). I don’t think I would have picked it up otherwise because I always gravitate more to books about people than animals (“How sad!,” some of you are thinking. It’s not a conscious decision, it’s just how I judge book covers, for some reason), but she was right, Isaac definitely loved it. In fact, we often say, “Can’t go! my truck is stuck!” when we’re playing with trucks. It’s a fun book.

Little Blue TruckWe read this book all the time. It’s one of those books that we got from the library and then bought as soon as we saw it in a store. Not only is the book beautiful and the story fun, but it teaches a great lesson about being kind to people (or trucks?) who haven’t been kind to you. It’s a keeper. The sequel, Little Blue Truck Leads the Way, has not been quite such a hit with our son, but we’ve only read it once since we got it from the library on Monday, so it may become a late blooming favorite. We’ll see.

Going to the Zoo with Lily and MiloBoth my children love the Lily and Milo books by Pauline Oud. They are fun because the illustrations give you a chance to be observant. Milo does some pretty funny things while Lily isn’t watching, like collecting friends at the zoo instead of paying any attention to the zoo animals. My daughter thinks they’re great and Isaac laughs out loud at them. He’s a laugher (no lie, he started laughing at 5 weeks and hasn’t stopped since), so maybe your kids won’t find them quite so amusing as he does, but they will probably like them. I sure do. =)

Roadwork!Roadwork is another one by Sally Sutton that Isaac loves. It kind of makes me sad because I have to admit, I verge on the tree hugger side of things (understatement), so seeing that beautiful pasture they start out on becoming a lovely highway isn’t so fun for me. But the project progression is pretty fascinating, especially to my little boy. We have gotten it from the library so many times, we really just need to buy it. But then I would be stuck reading it multiple times a day without the excuse that “we had to take it back to the library.”

The Bravest KnightThe Bravest Knight is an awesome book for boys. I really do want my son to think about being brave and chivalrous and all that. This story kind of puts a funny twist on the knight idea, though. My son is always laughing at the cat in the book. I think he may be a little young to really appreciate the story, but he sure does love it.

I’ve only scratched the surface of books I’ve discovered that my little boy loves. And I’m still discovering more. I may have to write a part two very soon. Please let me know which books the little boys you know love, too!

Camping With Kids

My family and I spent this past weekend camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We had a great time splashing in cold mountain streams, hiking on little trails near our campsite, taking long walks to the bath house, and sleeping on our sleeping bags side by side in our tent. I didn’t carry my camera with me much, but I did take lots of mental pictures that I hope to carry always: three tired heads sleeping on their pillows in the early dawn light; my son cuddled in a hammock with an uncle or aunt (my kids have lots of great uncles and aunts); the warmth of campfire reflecting on happy, tired faces; and my four-year-old, usually very girly daughter in her pink jeans, pink shoes, and pink shirt intently learning to swing a baseball bat. Turns out she’s pretty coordinated and is crazy about baseball now, thanks to some really thoughtful friends who brought a new toy for our children. My son kind of tries to hit the ball with a golf-like swing, but he’ll get it right someday. Or maybe he’ll just stick to golf.

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The kids and I enjoying the icy cold stream near our campsite.

We had a lot of fun even if we didn’t sit around the campfire relaxing nearly as much as we used to before we had children. I always take lots of books with me when I go to the mountains. I took three books with me on this trip, but I only read a quarter of one. But here’s what I did read quite a lot of before we left:

The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids: How to Plan Memorable Family Adventures and Connect Kids to Nature

The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids

Laugh if you will. I am the type of person who always find a book to read on whatever topic I feel unprepared for. Childbirth? Read at least five different books on it. Parenting? Still reading books, and I’ve lost count on how many I’ve read so far. Preparing for job interviews? Two books (they didn’t help much). Cooking for children? Three books. You see? I buy into the theory that knowledge is power. So, yes, I read a book on how to camp with kids. And it was fairly helpful. I probably would have thought of a lot of the tips without reading that book (for instance, keep your children away from open fires), but there were some helpful hints. One of the ideas was to take some monster truck toys with you so your children can make trails at the campsite or on hikes. That idea was genius. I will probably read The Guide again when my children are older and I can do more of the games and activities suggested in the book. It’s a great book if you’re like me, and need a book to prepare you for life’s major hurdles, such as camping with children in the mountains.

We also love the book We’re Going to the Mountains by Steve Kemp. My husband and I bought it on a trip to Ashevillle, NC when our daughter was just a baby. Both of our children love that it’s a poem with pictures. It’s so lyrical, it’s one of those books that’s easy to memorize after you’ve read it a few times. We recited bits of it several times throughout our trip. I like how it sets some expectations for small children of what people usually do when they go to the mountains. The illustrations are gorgeous, too. I’ve only seen it sold at Mast General Stores, or Amazon, but if you’re going to camp with children, I highly recommend getting a copy somehow.

And Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a fun one to read in the mountains. It kind of takes the fear out of the fact that there may be bears around. This is my favorite version of the story because it’s the one my family had when I was little. My parents now have it in their living room for the grandkids to read when they come over, and I still think that this version has the cutest Baby Bear ever. Jan Brett has done a version that is breathtaking visually, but may be a bit too wordy for very young readers/listeners.

So that’s what I learned about camping with children. What books and ideas have been your favorite when camping with kids? We had a great time and plan to go again, so bring on all the suggestions you can think of!