The BEST Kind of Mom

Mar 21, 2018

Aaron will turn ten this year, which means I will also be celebrating my tenth anniversary of motherhood.

Becoming a mother was probably the easiest transition of my life. It was easier than going to college; easier than marriage; easier than moving. It just felt so good and so right.

But even though I was always content to be a mom, I wasn't always comfortable in my own mom-skin. I often found myself watching other moms, both older and younger, with more or fewer children, and thinking I should be . . . different.

Excursions to the park would trigger feelings that I either wasn't being interactive enough (observing the moms who were narrating all their children's actions while going down the slides with them) or was paying too much attention to them (observing the moms who were absorbed in a good book while their children entertained themselves).

I tended to feel extremely guilty when one of my children was invited to an elaborate birthday party because I knew I would never be throwing a similar party for him.

But I had a bit of a turning point about three years ago when I read MotherStyles, which was all about how Myers-Briggs personality types could be specifically applied to motherhood. The book made the case that you naturally have certain strengths and weaknesses and that rather than try to give yourself different strengths, you should focus on the strengths you already have.

My thoughts further evolved last year when I used a quote by Marjorie Pay Hinckley as my theme for 2017. She said,
"I don't want to drive up to the pearly gates in a shiny sports car, wearing beautifully tailored clothes, my hair expertly coiffed, and with long, perfectly manicured fingernails. I want to drive up in a station wagon that has mud on the wheels from taking kids to scout camp. I want to be there with a smudge of peanut butter on my shirt from making sandwiches for a sick neighbor's children. I want to be there with a little dirt under my fingernails from helping to weed someone's garden. I want to be there with children's sticky kisses on my cheeks and the tears of a friend on my shoulder. I want the Lord to know I was really here and that I really lived.
At first, I tried to force myself to be the kind of mom she seemed to be advocating--one that would almost certainly welcome all the neighborhood children into her kitchen for warm cookies and cold milk.

But anytime I tried to be that kind of mom, I felt tense and irritable, which led to feelings of guilt, which led to me feeling bad about myself.

The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized Sister Hinckley's statement was less about becoming a certain kind of mother and more about being present and involved in the way that suited me best. There were many ways to show the Lord that "I was really here and that I really lived."

In the book Crossing to Safety (side note: if you haven't read it, read it), Larry Morgan's father gives him this piece of advice: "Do what you like to do. It will probably be what you do best."

Last year, I began paying attention to certain activities and actions and how they made me feel: when was I happiest as a mom? when did I feel the most anxious or grumpy? when were the times I felt fulfilled and proud of myself?

It turned out that the things I liked to do were, no surprise, the things I was best at. Maybe I needed to spend more time using my strengths and less time trying to force myself to acquire new skills. Maybe I should let the moms who were good at the things I was bad at do those things so I could have more time to do the things I was good at.

Maybe, just maybe, if we moms played to our strengths instead of our weaknesses, our kids would have exactly what they needed.

In light of that, here are a few of my strengths (i.e., the things I do well):
  • Reading aloud
  • Teaching my kids how to read
  • Doing puzzles
  • Going to familiar places, like the library, pool, or park
  • Giving piano lessons
  • Teaching my kids how to work
  • Recording important moments in my journal
  • Having one-on-one special time
  • Having consistent mealtimes, nap times, bedtimes
  • Taking photos on a regular basis
  • Celebrating birthdays and holidays with simple traditions
  • Making/achieving goals
  • Cuddling
  • Making a photo calendar
  • Memorizing poems/quotes/scriptures
  • Going on walks
And here are a few of my weaknesses (i.e., the things I don't do well):
  • Engaging in creative, imaginative play
  • Doing messy, involved crafts
  • Throwing themed birthday parties (with 20 children)
  • Going to the store
  • Going on new adventures
  • Making dinner
  • Making memory or photo books
  • Organizing play dates
  • Enjoying lots of noise
  • Inviting neighbor kids over
  • Being okay with messes
  • Playing games
  • Being spontaneous
  • Being patient
  • Not yelling
This shift in mindset has done wonders for my identity as a mother, but it has also given me an unexpected blessing, which is that I love other mothers more. I no longer feel jealous of their cake decorating/infectious enthusiasm/fun games/fill in the blank skills (not most of the time anyway). Instead, I think, That's one of their strengths. They're doing something they love. That is one of the ways they find joy in motherhood. (And interestingly, many of my weaknesses are actually Mike's strengths, so it has helped for me to recognize that as well.)

This is not to say there aren't things I could improve or skills that would be beneficial to acquire (see "being patient" above). However, I have chosen to embrace the good things I'm doing and look for ways to build on the strengths that are already there rather than try to do something (poorly) because another mother is doing it.

So you probably won't see me playing a magical dinosaur game in the park, but that's because I'm curled up on the couch with a big stack of picture books. And that feels just right.

I'd love to hear about some of the things you do that make you feel happiest as a mom. Or, conversely, what is something you're willing to let go of because you don't enjoy it? 

A Little of This and That in February

Mar 9, 2018

After I wrote that hygge post, we got twelve inches of snow. Then a few days later, we got another six inches. And then last Sunday, we got another 12+ inches. That means in the last two weeks, it has snowed more than thirty inches. So I'm hygge-ing hard, dreaming of spring, and feeling grateful that we finally got some water to pull us through the summer months.

In other news, we've been . . .

Listening . . . to The Greatest Showman. My kids have yet to see the movie (Mike and I saw it on a date without them), but that doesn't stop them from loving the music. We purchased the soundtrack, and then Mike burned it onto two CD's--one for Aaron and Bradley and the other for Clark and Maxwell (because we're still old school and use CD players in their bedrooms). This means that sometimes I get to hear two songs from The Greatest Showman playing at the same time (lucky me!). I like the music, but I'll admit that at this point, I'm getting a little sick of it.

Soaking . . . up the nice weather before the snow hit mid-month. The boys jumped on the tramp (in bare feet, no less), played basketball, rode their bikes, and played soccer. One Saturday, we all went to the zoo. And we should have gone on more walks (she says in retrospect).

Watching . . . the Olympics. In general, we don't watch a lot of TV, but that all goes out the window when the Olympics arrive. Except for taking a break on Sundays, I think we watched them every single evening. Aaron was especially into them and knew all of the athletes and sports much better than I did. We let him stay up late on the last Friday of the Games, but apparently, it wasn't late enough because when we made to turn off the TV, he started crying: "They're going to show curling at 10:30, and I haven't seen curling during this whole Olympics!" Devastating. Luckily, curling was on again the next afternoon, so he ended the Olympics feeling satisfied. My favorite moment was when Shaun White won gold on the half pipe (which is so funny since I am not into punk sports at all). That or seeing Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir's coordinating outfits each night, haha.

Feeling . . . spoiled at a Valentine's brunch. My good friend, Sarah, hosted a brunch the week of Valentine's Day and invited me and two other friends, Molly and Jami. She set a darling table, made yummy crepes, and even gave a little party favor to each person. We did it on a week day, so of course we had all of our little kids with us, but we sent them down to the basement to play while we ate and chatted. It felt luxurious to have something like that in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. I'm so lucky to have these sweet friends.

Wearing . . . pajamas. Ian has basically lived in pajamas all winter. Even when I get him "dressed," I usually just put him in another sleeper. Because they're one piece and have a zipper, they're fast to put on. Plus, they have built in socks. And they're cozy and warm and comfortable. It's a far cry from the days when I dressed Aaron to the nines before going out, but Ian seems to like the arrangement just fine.

Celebrating . . . Valentine's Day. Honestly, we don't do a lot to celebrate. We have a yummy breakfast in the morning (which, when Valentine's Day falls on a Wednesday, does tend to feel pretty special). Mike and I limit our gift giving to a few cheesy presents (and Mike wrote me a poem this year, which I always consider the nicest of presents) and we go out to dinner (and for the last few years, it has been to the Gardner's house, so we don't even have to battle the crowds). We gave each of the boys a book, and when I mentioned it on Instagram, a couple of people acted like it was such a good idea to give books, and I was like, "Pretty much every holiday is an excuse for me to give my kids more books."

Dieting . . . with Mike. I finally decided it was time to focus and lose the last few pounds of baby weight. I had basically plateaued and knew the rest wasn't going to go away without some effort on my part. Mike wanted to lose some weight, too, so he decided to join me. I'm happy for the company, but the problem is Mike likes everything to be a competition (that's how he stays motivated), so now we've got a chart taped to our closet door to track our progress. If both of us meet our goals, we get to go on a little overnight getaway at the end of April. But if one of us doesn't meet his/her goal, then that person has to take the other person's month for planning dates (I do NOT want to lose!). So far I'm on track. You might even say I'm wasting Mike.

Sledding . . . and playing in the snow. The boys finally got to break out the sleds, and that made (most of) them very happy. (I didn't go on either of their sledding outings, but I guess Maxwell complained most of the time; he's not much of a cold weather fan. But after the third snowstorm, he eventually came around and even built a snowman by his own choice.)

Swatching . . . for a big chunky cardigan with a fun colorwork pattern. This one is knit in the round and then you cut up the front of it (yes, with scissors!) to turn it into a cardigan. I practiced cutting on my swatches, but I still don't feel comfortable doing it to my actual project. It's knitting up quickly (I just attached the sleeves), so I'm going to have to work up the courage soon. I also knitted a couple of cute little flowers and fairies for my nieces, and I think they're so adorable (both the fairies and my nieces!).

Adoring . . . Ian. Words cannot describe how much we all adore this baby. Even though he is ten months old, every single one of my kids still asks to hold him on a daily basis. And when they're not holding him, they're talking to him, playing with him, making him laugh, or just generally admiring his cuteness. And I would say the feeling his mutual because he adores his brothers. There is something so sweet about seeing older kids with their younger siblings. It's a different kind of nurturing, and it's made me so grateful that we didn't stop with four kids but let them all grow up a little and then added one more. There's just nothing like having a baby to love. (Plus, even though Ian is huge, he has really stayed babyish for so much longer than my other kids, and that is a major bonus.)

It was a nice month, but I will forever be grateful that February is short and sweet. On to spring! What did you do in February?

What I Read in February

Mar 1, 2018

Okay, this is getting embarrassing. Like January, I somehow managed to only read three books in February. What is wrong with me? In my defense, I spent a big chunk of the month reading a book for book club (Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage and Manners by Therese Oneill), but I'm not including it here; I only read half of it because the style grated on me after awhile, plus I didn't appreciate some of the content.

So here are the three books I actually finished:

1. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Some books are extremely engaging and entertaining when you're in the middle of them, but after you finish, you find yourself liking them less and less each time you think about them. Other books are harder to connect with when you're reading them, but the longer you're apart from them, the more you love them.

I can already tell this book is going to be the latter scenario for me.

That's not to say I didn't like it when I was reading it. I definitely did--the writing is pristine and stunning, and the Alaskan wilderness is a perfect backdrop for winter reading--but the plot was a little slow-moving. I didn't fly through it but had to hunker down and really commit to finishing it.

But since finishing it, I'm finding my esteem gradually rising. It's hard to explain, mostly because it makes it sound like I didn't enjoy the actual act of reading it. It's just that I love it so much more now that it's over, and I'm beginning to see that it wasn't just a good story but a masterful retelling of a quiet and heart wrenching fairy tale.

It has its roots in the Russian fairy tale, "Snegurochka" (the Snow Child). But it's set in the early 20th century on a wild and often times harsh Alaskan homestead. I loved what Eowyn Ivey said about it in an interview: "I found that the earthy, often violent realities of homesteading created wonderful texture contrasted with the ethereal elements of the snow maiden." And that's exactly how I felt about it. There's this part of it that's very physical and tangible and this other part that keeps slipping through your fingers in an other-worldly fashion.

But the real takeaway for me was this: "We are allowed to do that, are we not Mabel? To invent our own endings and choose joy over sorrow?" I had a feeling from the beginning that the ending would be, at best, bittersweet, and, at worst, tragic. While I won't spoil what happens, I will say that I kept thinking about this phrase as I was reading, and I realized that in spite of sad things, we can always choose joy over sorrow, even if sorrowful things happen to us, and I think Mabel really makes that discovery during the course of the story.

Content note: a baby is conceived out of wedlock, and there is some profanity

2. The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
My boys and I have several series that we're in the middle of. This is intentional. It's nice to have a few books constantly at the ready so if our current readaloud is a total bomb (it happens), we can get back into a good reading groove with the next installment in a much-beloved series.

The Chronicles of Narnia happens to be one of those. It's been almost two years since we were last in Narnia (when we read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), and Aaron and I were ready to get back to it. The feeling wasn't mutual though. Max was obstinately reluctant (as usual), and Bradley took one look at the cover and insisted that it would give him nightmares. We went ahead with it anyway.

(Ironically, Bradley skipped the first two-thirds of the book and finally decided to join us on, you guessed it, the very scene depicted on the front cover. And he wasn't scared at all.)

I read this book myself several years ago and wrote an extensive review at that time (probably one of my favorite reviews I've ever written), so I don't feel like I need to go into much additional detail here. I will say that I loved reading this one out loud. Doing the voices for Puddleglum and the witch were my favorite.

3. Anne of Green Gables: a graphic novel adapted by Mariah Marsden and illustrated by Brenna Thummler

I have reached a point in my reading life that I never quite expected and that is that I actually really enjoy graphic novels and will often reach for one when I need a quick read that will also serve as a bit of a palette cleanser.

When I saw this new graphic novel adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, I immediately put it on hold, and I loved revisiting one of my favorite stories in a new way.

For the most part, this adaptation remains true to the original story and includes all of the major scenes (Anne cracking her slate over Gilbert's head, intoxicating Diana, dreaming of puffed sleeves, and nearly drowning in her role as the Lady of Shalott, etc.). But more important to me was that it stay true to the heart and feeling and essence of the original, and it did. (And we all know that sometimes these adaptations DO NOT--can I get an "amen" in regards to Netflix's Anne with an 'E'? Ugh.)

I particularly loved Matthew and Marilla in this adaptation, and I maybe got a little teary-eyed when Marilla tells Anne, "Matthew and I--together, we loved you beyond sense."

Of course, it can't compare to the original (nothing can!!), but I think this would be a perfect introduction for kids who might not be quite ready for Anne's flowery speeches. I'm pretty sure Aaron, Max, and Bradley would agree since they all stole it from me and read it, too.

That's it for February. I anticipate March being a much better reading month as I'm already well over halfway through three books.

What did YOU read in February?

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