Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Weight of it All

I am "trying" to get myself into a routine of getting up at 5 AM so that I can have some time to be on the computer to write this blog, catch up on email, manage/post pictures, etc. It is "my time." As I write this I realize that am quite protective of "my time" and that, in my head, "my time" is from 5 to 7 AM. Which helps to make sense of why I tend to get frustrated when one of our children wake up before 7 AM.

"Doesn't she realize that this is my time and that it is important for me to have my time?" I can hear myself protesting. "There is so much I need to get done. So many things that I have to take care of! And if I don't reply to all those people then <enter catastrophic scenario here>!" With this running in my head, it is no wonder I get so ticked off when Mary Jane comes up stairs rubbing her eyes and squinting against the 6:15 AM. Of course, the fact that she is crying and calling for mommy (who is at the pool for a swim work out) doesn't help. Nor does the fact that she doesn't want me to even look at, let alone console her.

If I am honest with myself, I can see that the truth is I am not upset with my daughter. I am upset with myself. I am upset with myself for staying up too late, again; for using "my time" to manage pictures this morning rather than to write; for continuing in this pattern of just doing any the things on my to do list rather than purposefully choosing what I am going to do with the time I have. Of course, being this honest with myself also means that I am putting responsibility for how I spend my time

"Whoa there, tiger. Let's not get crazy now…" says the voice in my head. Wow! I really do not want that responsibility! As I write this I can literally feel myself squirming inside trying to find a way out of taking responsibility. This points to another, larger issue: that I have a big fat "NO!" to my limits! Apparently, I hold a belief that I "should not" have limitations. I "should" be able to function on five hours of sleep. I "should" be able to stay mentally and emotionally clear at all times. I "should" be able to make the right decision about how to respond to my children/wife/friends/etc. at all times. I "should" be able to keep up on email. I "should"… And the reality is that I do have limits and these limits are different as a full-time dad than they were when I worked outside our home. My heart is racing. This is a big one for me. What I am seeing is that when I refuse to accept my limitations I do not allow myself to be present in the moment. And so I do not get to have what is happening right now. Today is a wonderful example.

It was a full day. We met up with my friend Darin and his son Ethan for daddy-kiddo day today at Como Zoo. The zoo was a hit, no question. Getting ready to go to the zoo was a challenge on several fronts including that Mary Jane woke up at 6:15 AM…45 minutes "early." Hearing Mary Jane cry for mommy at 6:15 AM was a reality I was unwilling to accept and so a seed of frustration was planted. And then Rebekah woke up at about 7:15 AM which is at least 30 minutes earlier than usual...with a leaking poo and pee filled diaper. So now her bedding needed to be changed and washed along with the other four loads of laundry. Did I mention that our washing machine is broken? Yeah, I have to manually switch it from cycle to cycle. As I changed Rebekah, and tried to keep her from touching her pee and poo soaked jammies, I was thinking about the list of things I "needed" to get done today: feed me and MJ, feed Rebekah, start laundry, make and pack lunch, do laundry, go to the zoo, do laundry, have rest/nap time, do laundry, reply to people I've meant to reply to for several days, do laundry...and my frustration built. By the time we got back from the zoo Mary Jane and I had had several little battles including one that ended in a time out right after we got back home. "Finally," Rebekah was asleep and, quite atypically, Mary Jane fell asleep watching her rest-time movie. So I sat for a little while and then did a couple things. I was just about to watch a documentary I'd been wanting to see when Mary Jane woke up crying. I picked her up and sat on the couch with her...and she fell back asleep. So there I sat on the couch, holding Mary Jane...and thinking about all of the things I could be doing, if I weren't trapped under this sleeping child.

I could feel the full weight of my 3 1/2 year-old sleeping on me. I could hear her soft breath and feel her peacefulness as she slept in her daddy's arms. That's when it hit me: this is why I am here. All that other stuff is secondary right now. I am here, at home, to be with and support my children. And I have been missing it. Being "trapped" under the weight of my sleeping preschooler gave me freedom to remember what is most important to me and to choose to be present in that moment.

What if I choose to see all my limits as revolutionaries? As freedom fighters whose goal is to set me free? What would that change in perspective do to the quality of my life? Perhaps this the year for me to find out!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

'Cause its Fun

I believe it is important to help the girls learn about thinking through their decisions and to learn about consequences. I also believe it is important to take care of our possessions so that they last a long time. I often put these ideas together as I talk Mary Jane through why it is okay, or not okay, for her to take a specific action. We had an interesting opportunity on this very point this morning.

We had been playing for awhile and Mary Jane was already dressed for the day. Well, dressed and then somewhat undressed - she will often pull her shirt up as if to take it off and then leave it at the top of her head like a turban. She then pretends that her shirt is hair...and she LOVES doing this. It was time for me to take a shower so I asked her if she would like to shower with me or keep playing. "Yeah, shower with you," she replied. I headed off to the bathroom to start getting the shower ready. About 30 seconds later Mary Jane came into the bathroom and said, "I changed my mind. I want to shower by myself." Now, I have learned how to tell when Mary Jane is planning to do something that she thinks I will not approve of and I could tell that there was something behind her change of mind. "Why do you want to shower by yourself?" I asked. With eyes turned toward the floor and half turning away Mary Jane sheepishly said, "I want to shower with this on," referring to the shirt on her head...her 'hair.'

At this point my mind went straight into parental teaching mode. "You can't let her do that," I heard my mind say. "That isn't being responsible. And if you let her do it today then you set a precedence and she'll want to do it every day and you will have to fight with her to keep it from being an every day occurrence." All fine and seemingly valid points. But before I spoke something inside me, something deeper within, urged me to ask a follow-up question, "Is that why you want to shower by yourself? So you could shower with your shirt on your head?" She nodded . Again, my mind jumped to action, "See, she is being deceitful and manipulative. You have to take action to show her that she cannot trick you into letting her get her way."

As my mind told me what I "had" to do I could feel that sense from deeper within coming up again. It is a softer urging, in terms of volume, than is the demanding chatter of my mind. At the same time, though, this deeper sense is stronger, less forceful and more confident...knowing. I paused and asked, "Why do you want to shower with your shirt on your head?" Mary Jane smiled and said quite matter-of-factly, "'Cause its fun." My heart nearly exploded with love and joy as we laughed together. "Okay, Mary Jane," I said, "you can shower with your shirt on."

Today Mary Jane reminded me that sometimes "'cause its fun" is reason enough. What would my life be like if I did more things 'cause they're fun? Just asking that question excites me and gives me a sense of freedom and joy. Imagine a life lived outside the boundaries of justifications and air tight reasoning. Imagine the freedom of simply choosing to follow my heart and do! I have both excitement and trepidation around this.

Friday, January 14, 2011

I am not Alone

Sometimes I struggle to remember that Mary Jane is only 3 1/2 years old. This is an example of why that can be so hard for me.

It is about 3 PM Friday afternoon and I am rushing around the house trying to get everything ready for us to leave for a four-day trip to Iowa to visit Maaike's family in Pella. We've already had a fun and big morning going to Cinidi and Rowan's house to visit them and Nicole. Then off to Friday Playgroup at Heather's house. Lots of time with good friends and fun kiddos. We got home about 12:20 PM and "all" we had left to do was to eat lunch, feed Rebekah, pack my clothes, pack Rebekah's clothes, make and pack snacks, do dishes, pack up all the "stuff," feed Rebekah again, and load the 3 PM.

Maaike is off work at 3 PM on Fridays and we wanted to hit the road as close to then as possible so we could miss traffic and arrive in Pella (about a 5 1/2 hour drive without small children) at a reasonable time. As I said, it is now about 3 PM and  everything is done except feeding Rebekah the second time (and she is REALLY hungry now), doing the dishes (not many) and finish loading the car. At this point I am working quite hard at keeping my stress level and drivenness in check. I send Maaike a text to let her know we are running behind and then give Rebekah her bottle. As I am holding Rebekah to feed her I am distracted, thinking about what is left to do, how to do it most efficiently and how to enroll Mary Jane into staying focused on getting us ready to leave. 

Rebekah finishes her bottle by about 3:20 and I put her in the bouncy while I do dishes...a decision/situation that is less-than-desirable to Rebekah. So now I am doing dishes, playing peek-a-boo with and singing to a crying Rebekah, and reminding/encouraging Mary Jane to pick up her toys and finish getting ready to leave. By the time I finish doing the dishes Rebekah has gotten herself quite worked up so I pick her up to calm her and change her diaper. I hate to see her upset and crying like this and I don't like leaving her in the bouncy to cry. What's more is that, with the dishes done, all that is left is to pack the car. Which means putting Rebekah in her car seat or back in the bouncy.

Then it hits me: I am not alone. Mary Jane is here and Rebekah adores Mary Jane, and Mary Jane adores Rebekah. So I put Rebekah in her car seat and set her down close to the back door with everything else that needs to go out to the car (including Mary Jane who is already wearing her coat and boots). "Mary Jane, will you please be with Rebekah while I load the car?" I ask. "You want me to rock Rebekah? Okay." Keep in mind that I asked only that Mary Jane "be with Rebekah."  As I am picking things up for the second, and final, trip to the car I see Mary Jane bent down gently rocking the car seat and saying in a sweet, tender voice, "You're okay, Rebekah. There is nothing to be worried about. Mommy is at work and daddy and big sister are right here."

My tendency, my "drama," is to take everything on myself; to believe that I have to carry the entire load by myself. This morning Mary Jane showed me once again that I am never alone and I can always ask for help.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Joy Within Limits

I was scheduled to be on a conference call this morning at 6 am. Mary Jane woke up at 5:30 after having a bad dream. Theoretically, Mary Jane sleeps until about 7 am and so a 6 to 7 am conference call would be just fine. Hearing her scream for me from downstairs was a lifeshock and my immediate response was, "No, I have a conference call and I don't want to have to entertain a 3 1/2 year old while also participating on the call!"

So rather than collecting my thoughts, and myself, from 5:30 to 6 I sat on the couch and talked with Mary Jane about her scary dream. As a side note, given the space and attention, a young child can tell you a great deal about her dreams...and this one sounded pretty spooky to me! A few minutes before the call was to begin I asked Mary Jane to pick out the paper or coloring book she wanted to color on. She picked a coloring book...Hello Kitty, of course.

So there we sat, six o'clock in the morning at the dining room table. I had my computer in front of me and Mary Jane on my lap. She had her coloring book in front of her with her crayons at the ready. And there we sat for the next 50 minutes - until the end of the call! As a 3 1/2 year old Mary Jane needed to sit still and quiet for 50 minutes (or more accurately, I wanted her to) AND SHE DID IT! This experience could have been restrictive for her, it could have been horrible and long and and and… Instead Mary Jane created some beautifully colored pictures. And she did so with much pride and joy!

This morning Mary Jane taught me, again, that it is entirely possible to find joy within limits. Imagine what life would be like if I chose to find the joy within the limits of my life! The possibilities are amazing - and freeing!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Naked Truth

Maaike and I were both “on edge” tonight…we were both feeling a bit off physically and were both tired. Mary Jane, on the other hand, was feeling quite fine and was wide awake and full of energy, surprise, surprise…

As I look back over the day what stands out to me most is that while Maaike and I were grumpily doing dishes and making dinner Mary Jane was standing right there with us, buck naked and just wanting to be a part of what mommy and daddy were doing. She had a frying pan full of her wooden fruits and vegetables and would periodically break out in an announcement about the recipe she was following and how the red stuff was in there to give the cookies flavor. But I didn’t really see her and her joy. I was too busy being pissed off that there were so many damn dishes and that the stinking bottle brush was too big for the bottles and so I would get a face full of dish water spray with every bottle.

And then there is Rebekah who, somehow, sat peacefully in her little bouncy kicking her legs and cooing and gooing…even though she was surrounded by a couple of edgy parents and a loud and excited older sister.

Again, Mary Jane and Rebekah are my teachers – what is really important in life? It was all right there! All within seven feet of me: my wife and both my daughters. And, as if that weren’t enough, we are here in our own home with food and clothes and toys and…so much to be grateful for and so much to celebrate. How often do I forget to celebrate the amazing gifts in my life? When was the last time I stopped and celebrated life? Period. Just the fact that I am alive, that I get to take this breath.

The truth is that my life is way too precious to waste on being grumpy and pissed off about the stupid dishes. I want to spend more time standing naked in the kitchen cooking wooden fruits and vegetables with red stuff so that the cookies get flavored!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Rebekah was up at just after 5 am today - very unusual for her. I didn't get to sleep until about 12:30 am last night, so I was planning on sleeping until 7 or 7:30 am. To say the least, I was very tired today...and not very long on patience.

It was about 3:15 pm and Rebekah was ready for a second afternoon nap. MJ wanted to come with me to put Rebekah down. After about 3 minutes of pseudo quiet playing with a Barbie doll, MJ loudly whispers, "Put her down!" Now, MJ knows that Rebekah almost always fusses herself to sleep and so I assumed that MJ was just trying to speed up the nap time process so we could get back to playing dollies upstairs. I believe it is important to not let Rebekah cry while in her crib trying to fall asleep - fussing is fine, crying is not okay. So it is difficult for me to put her down too quickly for fear of her starting to cry and then rousing herself.

I replied with a "Shh!" and a finger held up as if to say, "I know what I'm doing here kid so just be quiet and don't tell me what to do!" About one minute later I hear, "Put her down!" This time I was irritated and scolded Mary Jane for making so much noise and having her energy too high while I'm trying to get Rebekah to sleep.

A few seconds later it occurred to me that MJ could be right. So I laid Rebekah down. Not a sound - she was asleep already in my arms! Whether or not Mary Jane "knew" Rebekah was about to fall asleep I don't know for sure, although I believe that she did. What I do know for sure is that I was initially unwilling to trust Mary Jane's knowing.

As I reflect on this it occurs to me how difficult it is for me to know when to trust my own "knowing" self, or someone elses "knowing", and when not to. I believe that things won't always work out "right" when I do trust the knowing...but then, they don't always work out "right" anyway! What if I were to trust my knowing self and Mary Jane's knowing and Maaike's knowing... What if I were to step out on faith rather than to demand to see the whole picture and know that it will work out before I take a step? What if I were to choose to life my life by faith, trusting that I have all that I need to be able to handle anything that comes? That sounds rich and free to me...and it is an edge to work on!