The Only Thing Standing Between Us and Hell

“Did Goliath go to hell?” I looked at Grace’s big earnest eyes sparkling under the lights of the Christmas tree. Both of our boys sucked in their breath quickly trying not to burst out laughing. Scott also snorted at Grace’s random question. For the past few nights, we have been reading to the kids from their children’s bible and asking them questions to reflect on what we’ve read. We were not reading anything about David and Goliath, but Grace has always loved that story best. 

I smiled at her and said, “It’s a fair question.”

Noah and Luke’s jaws dropped open. Luke said, “Mom! She said a bad word!” 

“Hell is not a word we should use all the time, but Grace was asking about it in the proper context so, I’m okay with that.

“So you want to know if Goliath went to hell.” I turned my attention back toward Grace. “I have no way of knowing that. He seemed like a pretty nasty guy. I imagine that he had to pay for his sins somehow. But I don’t know how all of that works exactly…I wonder if God keeps the good parts of our souls and destroys the parts that are not good. Maybe Goliath wasn’t all bad.” 

Grace looked just as confused as before. So I just opened the little bible to the story of the Three Wise Men and quickly changed the subject. 

Her question had me thinking about the concept of hell though. For the past year, I have been struggling with anxiety and depression. It’s the worst it’s ever been for me over the last month. I have woken up to my alarm and wished I hadn’t woken up at all. My body ached with sadness. It felt like I had fallen into a dark pit and there was no way out. Just making the kids’ lunches and getting them out the door to school, pretending like I wasn’t feeling so racked with pain took everything in me. I lost so much weight, Scott was thinking about taking me to the hospital for an IV. It was the scariest feeling I’ve ever had. I was convinced I’d fallen through a blackhole into hell. 

I often wonder if maybe this world is hell. If you’ve ever watched the show Stranger Things, it is how I envision the way hell works. It’s this alternate universe where places, and people are exactly where they are now, but everything is coated with these nasty webs and everything is cold and dark. It’s like a veil has been pulled over all that is good and beautiful and gives it this sinister look. Maybe our world is that way. It’s been said that heaven is here now. But maybe we can’t always see it that way because of this veil that covers everything…

**Warning: Tangent Ahead**

We know that all matter in this world is made of atoms moving at varying speeds. Einstein proved that and it’s been verified many times over. Well if everything exists in the form it does because of the energy it generates, maybe that’s why there is good and bad in the world. Some things exist out of love, and others out of fear. Our emotions create energy.  Really! It’s been scientifically proven as well. We have the power to create joy and happiness. And we have the power to cause hurt and destruction. So theoretically, we can create both heaven and hell on earth. Can you imagine? We have the power to do that with our thoughts, our words, and our actions. 

At our core, we have these divine souls that are created to do great and beautiful things. But wrapped around our souls are these egotistical human bodies that feel pain, sadness, anger, jealousy, and fear. We are given quite a challenge in our human existence to always think and act with love because human emotion is a powerful thing. 

And yet, if this messy, broken world we live in is in fact a “hell” of sorts, created by our human suffering, and we can still have these moments of beautiful love and joy all around us, doesn’t that give testimony to how great the power of love really is? 

This year has been, without a doubt, the most difficult year of my life emotionally speaking. But there have been these moments that have pierced through the darkness…hearing my kids giggling as they play with each other, holding my baby nephew for the first time when he was born, feeling my heart explode with love when one of my kids hugs me or says, “I love you, Mom.” Scott holding me as I’ve broken down recently and somehow has had exactly the right words to carry me through. Love shines for us through that veil of darkness. Love is our hope of heaven. It is a constant reminder that no matter what we do or how badly we are hurting, love is still there for us. We just have to be open to it and allow it to lead us. We might go off-roading for a while and take some scary detours, but God is still there, shining his light, waiting for us to see it and find our way back to him, back to love. 

We have quite a lot of time to spend here on this earth. The opportunities allowed to us are limitless. We are going to fail. We are going to suffer and cause suffering. It’s part of the journey. But we can’t see light without darkness. You cannot know the depth of joy of being found until you’ve been lost. And sometimes we have to fall down to understand that we can do more and live a more joyful existence with grace and love leading the way. 

So, no Grace, I don’t know if Goliath went to hell. Maybe he was already there. Maybe the only thing standing between us and hell is love.

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Good Enough

   Was there really a time when I woke up in the morning, marveling at the wonder of my children? I can vaguely recall it…They would call to me from their rooms, “Mommy! I’m hungry!” and I would skip up the stairs to carry them down. Then I’d dance around the kitchen to pour pancakes on a griddle. Everything they said was adorable and hilarious at the same time. We would read books for hours and color pictures together–I loved being around them.
   When did the wonderment of parenthood lose its sparkle? It’s a bit of the chicken or the egg scenario. I don’t know if I became less enthusiastic or if they became whiny and annoying first. Was there perhaps a string of rough mornings that made me so angry about my alarm going off each day, only to pour cereal into bowls, thinking the entire time, “I’m an enabler and my children should be doing this crap themselves.”
   A sweet mom friend of mine sent me a text message last night asking where I buy the boys their jeans and jackets. She said, “Your boys always look so put-together,” which made me laugh aloud. I told her where I bought their jackets (Lands End--40% off on one full priced item right now and the jeans are the Levi Denizen brand from Target. You’re welcome for free advertising!) Anyway, I also thanked her for the very kind compliment. I said, “I’m glad we’re doing a good job faking it,” because most days, I feel like we are. I suppose it’s not being “fake” as much as trying to seem like we’re doing all right; to make people think we’re not failing at life in a big way.
   It’s like when last minute visitors are stopping by and you scramble to do a quick surface clean so they won’t be able to tell just how much you’ve let the house go. I usually throw all the dirty laundry in someone’s closet, wipe down the bathroom sinks and toilets and nearly break all the dishes in the kitchen that had just been piled to the ceiling on the counter top putting them away. In reality, my house is on fire and I’m serving you fresh lemonade hoping you don’t notice. We want people to believe we’re not so messy in our homes and hearts, but why? I don’t walk into other people’s homes and take note of their messes, nor do I judge their hearts because I can’t know what’s weighing on them today.
   The fact is my heart is far messier than my dusty shelves, crumby floors, and nasty fridge combined. I am constantly screwing up. I am not as engaging with my kids as I once was. They want me to play Beyblades or Pokemon cards with them and I would rather watch paint dry. I am so far off the mark in most things in my life that I actually feel embarrassed when people tell me that anything about my life is “put together.”
   As parents, we want to do the right thing, the noble thing, every time. But reality leaves us falling short so often. A bad night’s sleep makes us short-tempered. The kids acting out makes us feel like we’re failing at discipline. Lately I find I’m struggling to motivate myself at many things parenting related. Now that the kids are in school and I’m here at home still doing things mostly for them all day long, I’m feeling burnt out, maybe even a little resentful by the time they get home and need me to do even more for them. I am not excellent at being a mom or a wife. I am ego-driven and ungrateful a lot of the time.
   But I would say, the fact that I wake up willing to try it all over again makes my effort good enough. And it’s the same for all of us. We’re not giving up or running away. The fact that we can see our flaws, push them aside and keep forging on is something in and of itself, isn’t it?
   Life is hard and messy. You wouldn’t expect to walk through a giant mud puddle without getting dirty. And life is the biggest mud puddle of all. We all have to go through it. Maybe the difference is going through it finding either joy or disgust. It really comes down to perspective. I do believe if we remember how to think like a kid, it’s a little easier. Kids love the mess. They aren’t bothered by the germs or the grossness of it all.
   I’ve been at the school a lot lately doing recess and lunch duty for Grace’s class or yesterday, I taught her gym class. I do find it highly entertaining when one of the kids pulls on my arm and says, “Watch what I can do!” and then proceeds to do the most awkward looking cartwheel, nearly falling on their face, but when they stand up, they’re beaming with pride. And of course I must clap for them and tell them they are amazing! Because they are.
   I am a bit of an expert on the proverbial awkward cartwheel. I think I’m getting it right for a minute, but I know in my heart it’s not perfect and it never will be. I wonder if that is kind of how God feels watching us fumble through life. We know we don’t look like those spandex-clad gymnasts tumbling around at the Olympics, but we’re doing our best. Maybe just trying at all, never giving up, is good enough.
   So if we see each other at the sidewalk for pick up, and one mom looks like she just stepped off a runway and the other looks like she just rolled out of bed, we need to remember it’s not a reflection of what’s happening on the inside. We can’t possibly know what each person is struggling with. It’s been written about so many times before, but it always bears repeating. We can’t compare our stories to someone else’s. We all are crossing our own mud puddles, but we will find it more enjoyable if we remind ourselves, there is no glamorous way to do it and not giving up is good enough.
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My kids in their very put-together Lands End jackets having the time of their lives playing on a giant dirt pile with a bunch of dead weeds. #perspective

Work in Progress

  My kids were watching Blue Planet snuggled into the couch with Scott.
They were watching all kinds of animals instinctively care for their young. I was looking over from the corner of my eye trying to figure out how to start this blog post, when suddenly it seemed so obvious.
  Somehow, every creature is hard-wired to know how best to care for their offspring. Animals give birth without hospitals or epidurals. After they are born, they protect them, even giving their own lives without question or debate. They hunt or forage for their babies’ food without the use of microwaves or fear of salmonella poisoning. They just know exactly what to do. And when it’s time, they send them off into the world without a tear. They know it’s time and they have instinctive faith that everything will be all right.
  We humans, for all of our superiority, are a fragile breed. We cut our kids’ food into tiny pieces so they won’t choke. We read them a half-hour of bedtime stories to help them sleep. For God’s sake- we’ve invented Pinterest with hundreds of thousands of ideas to stave off boredom!
  I suppose it’s no wonder that as my last little one leaves the nest to spend more of her waking hours at school than at home, I am feeling displaced. The past ten years of my life, I have had a child–or two, or three–orbiting around my body everywhere I go. I’ve done everything for them (probably too much if you ask my husband). But they are what has given my life purpose for the past decade.
  It’s an odd feeling to pack up their lunches, kiss the tops of their fuzzy heads and send them off to school for the day. I have found myself desperate to leave the house immediately after their departure seeking ways to distract myself. Whether it’s the grocery store, a workout class, or wandering aimlessly around town with a coffee in hand, I’m spending time wondering if I have made a mistake by staying home to be a mom for the past eight years because now where do I fit into this world?  Doctors have been made in that much time! What do I have to show for it? A PhD in peanut butter and jelly sandwich making?
  I remind myself there will always be shelves to dust, laundry to fold, and dinner to be made. But doing all of it takes a fraction of the time that it used to because I am no longer interrupted by someone asking me for a snack or to read them a book. All those years of waiting to get some of my time back…well now it’s here and I can’t tell if it’s better just yet.
  So I’ve been mulling it over…what can I do now? It’s the age-old question so many of us in this position face. We signed off a piece of our souls at some point between the hospital holding those soft little bundles that flipped our world upside down and then holding back tears as we watch them walk with apprehension through the doors of their brightly colored kindergarten classrooms.
  I wish I knew how animals can be so cool about it. It’s probably because they never lose the notion that they are a bird, or a wolf, or a whatever-they-are. They know it down to their core. We have a lot more difficulty here because we can be so many things! Sure we’re all human beings, but it’s not so simple. We look for meaning in our lives more by what we do than by what we are. We measure our success by what we have to show for our time and energy spent doing something.
  I came across this Mother Teresa quote that spoke to me, “Be happy in the moment. That’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.” Our purpose is in this second. Not a few minutes ago, or ten years ago. It’s not in what is going to happen or in what could happen. Everything that matters is in the present. If we are focusing on this second, we will know our purpose. And we never know what each moment will bring our way. Sometimes, it’s a matter of waiting for the opportunity to find us and then not being afraid to say, “Yes!” We can’t always pursue our destiny with force. Life is happening to us, not the other way around.
  While I am still not exactly sure what I’m going to be when I grow up, all of this has forced me to look at who I am rather than what I am. I’ve realized that I did have instinctive faith by choosing to make motherhood my primary occupation. I felt something in my heart pulling me to it and I chose “yes” in that moment. Every moment since that one has been a result of that decision.
  I’m just learning to have faith in this minute right now. I guess if we’re all anything, we’re just works in progress because it doesn’t matter what any of us are doing. The one thing we all have in common is that we are working toward being what we were created to be. This is what sets us apart from animals. We have potential to shape the world around us with our thoughts, our words, and our actions. We are more fragile because our purpose has far more impact on the world. We can’t take this responsibility lightly.
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The kids on their first day of 4th grade, 3rd grade and Kindergarten.

 

  Since school started I’ve had to remind the kids that change can be uncomfortable.  Without these challenges we can’t grow or become stronger. This is true for all of us. When we face these crossroads of life, we are being given an opportunity to define not what we are, but who we are becoming.

Bringing True Beauty Into Focus

There is a song I love called “Words” by a singer/songwriter named Gregory Alan Isakov. In it he talks about how words are so much more meaningful at night time. They seem to take on greater significance because they aren’t drowned out by the din and commotion of the day. So he’s telling the girl he loves to listen to the song at night when words mean more. It’s a beautiful song and has been on my mind a lot lately. I feel like I can’t quiet my head enough to find those peaceful moments of joy in the everyday happenings of life.

Maybe it’s the August factor. The kids are at each other’s throats. My patience got bumped out of the open tailgate of my rickety sanity some time around the end of July. There is quite a lot happening to make it tough to focus on those pure moments of joy. This world actually counts on us being distracted, I think, as a way to function. But that’s probably part of the reason we are all walking around feeling like we need antidepressants. The less we can focus on the true beauty, the more hollow living feels. And I’m guilty of it, too. I sometimes struggle to focus on what is right in front of me.

Scott and I are approaching our anniversary on Saturday. Twelve years, and we’ve created these kids, built a home, and defined our love through every word we’ve ever spoken to one another, discouraging or kind, spiteful or loving. Everything we have is built of a million little moments. I was thinking about what it would sound like if we were to take all the words we’ve ever said and listened to them at once. I laughed aloud, because I was imagining how there would probably be a heavy dose of yelling, sarcasm, and laughing, but then also weird voices while we are reading stories to the kids, and does belching get included? I guess that’s a compliment of sorts… Anyway, we like to keep it real around here. But would there be harmony threaded through it all?

It also occurred to me that we both forget to tell one another that we “see” each other. I don’t mean like, “You look really pretty in that dress,” or “Nice hair cut!” but we forget to remind one another of what drew us together when we first met to make this  life possible. Telling your spouse that you “see” them is what will make the difference in a “meh”rriage and a marriage (You’re welcome to use that if you’re cool enough to pull it off). Recognizing their goodness, their inner beauty, is even more important than acknowledging superficial appearances because hair falls out or turns gray, those crow’s feet show up on everyone and laugh (or frown) lines deepen. That inner beauty stays high and tight.

Scott is not one for flashy gifts or extravagant displays of affection, but he has been known to take a minute to write me a note on a few of these momentous occasions to tell me just how he “sees” me. I have them saved them through the years. Besides the kids and our life together, these are the most precious tangible things I have from him. Probably not surprising, my score was a bit heavy on the “Words of Affirmation” section of the book “The Five Love Languages.” But I would be hard-pressed to believe that there is anyone out there who wouldn’t feel truly loved after being recognized for their inner beauty. So imagine if we took the time to say those things more often.

Now taking this theory a step further with my darling (however maddening) children, I realized they probably need to be shown the same. After all, we only know ourselves by the reflection of others’ perceptions of us. That’s what this whole “living with other human beings” thing is about. The past few days have been filled with a lot of whining, eye-rolling, hiding in closets, crying, and the kids have been acting up too. But after realizing how important it is to be really seen and acknowledged, I took a minute with each of them at bed time, when it was quiet and I had their full attention, to tell them how much I love them and one special thing about each of them. I received three long, tender, heartfelt hugs. I think we can start tomorrow on a better foot, maybe just by using our words to bring true beauty into focus.

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Noah is such a loving big brother and cousin to all the little ones in our family.
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Luke is so thoughtful and creative. He makes hilarious comics.
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Grace is the best at snuggling and has such a tender place in her heart for animals.
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Scott is determined to make the best life possible for the kids and me.

It’s Not Your Fault.

“He’s just so shy…His confidence is so poor…I see this often…His test scores just aren’t where they should be. I just think you’d be wise to have him evaluated.” I could hear the words coming from Luke’s teacher’s mouth. I even half-expected to hear them, and much sooner than second grade. I have always known Luke was a little different from my other two kids. He just takes longer to do everything. He didn’t walk until he was sixteen months old. He didn’t have much to say until he was past two years old, but then he wouldn’t stop–at least at home. He is so sensitive. He panics when there is too much commotion in a room. So I have always worried more for Luke and been more protective of him.  But after my parent-teacher conferences this past November, I became scared for him.

I cried as soon as I closed my car door after leaving the school. I called Scott who was still at work and yelled at him irrationally for not being there with me. I felt frustrated by my ignorance, for not knowing what was wrong with our son and for not doing something about it sooner. His teacher hadn’t said exactly what she thought, but the implication was loud and clear; something was wrong with him, or at least that’s how I understood it. Scott calmed me down. “We will get him whatever he needs. It’s going to be okay.”

The most overwhelming part of it was knowing where to start finding help. Since all the doctors’ offices were closed at that hour, I began by googling his “symptoms.” “Poor confidence, overly shy,  sensitive to too much stimulation, low standardized test scores.” Everything pointed to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). I know children who are on the spectrum and I could honestly say that some  of the things Luke did made me wonder. Still, I couldn’t be positive of anything. I didn’t think that I, armed with Google’s search browser, was any kind of expert on these things.

Next, I called a very good friend who had opened up to me just before conferences about how she had been taking her daughter to a child psychologist. She told me we needed to start with our pediatrician to get a referral to go to a psychologist.  Okay, so I would need to wait until the morning. I barely slept that night. And let me be clear, if you find out that you need to have your child tested for anything, the theme of your life will become “Hurry Up and Wait.” And while you wait, you will agonize over everything you’ve ever done to yourself or your child since his or her conception. You will fill your spare minutes wondering about insane things. “Maybe it was something I ate during my pregnancy–the doctor warned me about nitrates, but I had to eat that turkey sandwich, didn’t I?” “Maybe I just had the boys too close; I couldn’t give Luke all the attention he needed.” It’s funny because my answer was staring me in the face just by wondering all of these crazy things. I just didn’t understand it yet. But I’ll get to that later.

At our appointment with Luke’s pediatrician, the doctor spent about twenty minutes asking questions about his temperament, the feedback from his teacher that prompted our visit, our family life at home, etc. We left the office with a stack of business cards for child psychologists, and I, with more questions than when we had walked in the door.

All the psychologists recommended were well-accredited. I began calling each of them to see when we could get Luke in for testing and each one told us the test would take around eight hours. Some of the psychologists split the test into four two-hour increments each on a different day. Others liked to do the test over the course of a single day with mini breaks between sections. None of them could see us for at least another month. More waiting.

We chose one based on reviews from two other parents we knew who took their children to her. She also happened to be the one who would be able to start the test the soonest which was still after the first of the year.  I tried to stay upbeat. I got through Christmas keeping busy. I hung stockings by the fireplace and our ornaments on the tree. I baked dozens of cookies. I had my Christmas cards out the first week of December. I was doing everything I could to help the time pass quickly until that first appointment. I promised myself I wouldn’t search the internet anymore. Sometimes it was just scary what came up. Luke’s gloomy attitude toward school continued in spite of many of his classmates inviting him over for play dates or us inviting them to our house. I didn’t think his social life was suffering. He just seemed worked up on Sunday nights before bedtime, dreading the next morning and usually slunk into the car each day after school like he hated the past eight hours of his life.

Finally, the day came. We drove down the cold, gray road and he was very still in the back seat with wide eyes. “You all right, buddy?” I asked as cheerfully as I could. He met my eyes in the mirror and didn’t say anything, just nodded unconvincingly. We arrived at the office. She was with another child. We made ourselves at home on the sofas buried in emoji pillows and the tables covered with puzzles and toys. When the door opened, we met Luke’s doctor. She was warm and welcoming, empathetic, and a little quirky. Luke connected with her immediately which was good because I had to be out of the room for the testing. I was worried that Luke would flip, so I stayed for a while.

Every Saturday for four weeks we did Luke’s testing. He didn’t mind at all. He said the tests were like puzzles. Sometimes they were really tough, but the therapist reminded him that they are supposed to be. She had gained his trust quickly which is hard to do with Luke. The results took another six weeks from the date of his last test. That wait was nerve-wracking, but it was a very comprehensive test with loads of information to process. Finally at the end of March, I sat down with Luke’s doctor and she handed me a stack of papers, forty-two pages, to be exact, detailing Luke’s test results.

“Let me cut to the chase,” she said. “Luke is not on the spectrum. He has moderate General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I felt my body sag with a mixture of relief and understanding. Before I had sworn off online research, I had been reading about anxiety disorders and Luke’s behavior seemed to match many of the stories I had read. I was also prepared for the other news, that he might be on the Austism Spectrum, but in my heart, I didn’t believe that was the issue. Still, I reminded myself constantly, they’re all just labels and every person is so unique. We would meet whatever challenges we needed to, head-on, one step at a time.

Dr. Linda explained that there were all sorts of coping strategies we would work on with Luke that could be used in any situation, whether his anxiety spiked at home, in public, or at school. He also qualified for a 504, which is basically an accommodation plan that is established between us and the school administration to help him get through his school days as needed. She noticed a few of his triggers when his anxiety kicked in full force were when he was being asked to do many things at once like having to remember multiple step directions, when he’s being rushed, and when there are a lot of distractions preventing him from focusing. He also has many worries that hold him back from trying new things. He’s never been a risk-taking kid. He’s not the kid raising his hand to volunteer in class or assist the magician in a magic show. Luke is our silent observer. Everything Dr. Linda was telling me made perfect sense.

Our plan of attack against Luke’s anxiety is a multi-dimensional one. We meet with his therapist every other week for one hour and she gives new “tools” to deal with his worries. We also met with the school counselor and principal to come up with his accommodation plan, allowing him to utilize the resources available at the school. But the very first thing we had to do was help Luke understand where his anxiety comes from. And THIS is the main reason I decided to share this really personal information with all of you.

We were sitting in Dr. Linda’s office. She handed me a clipboard with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil. Luke was having a tough time with his session that day. His eyes kept welling up and he didn’t want to answer any questions. Dr. Linda kept reminding him that all of his feelings are normal. Even the “cold, prickly” ones. She changed directions on him after this.

“Luke, where do you get those cute dimples?” Luke tried not to smile but didn’t answer.

“From his dad,” I said.

“And Mom, where does Luke get his big, hazel eyes?” Dr. Linda went on. Luke piped up, “From my mom,” he said softly.

“Luke, if you got those things from your mom and dad, don’t you think your worries might come from somewhere else in your family. Where do you think your anxiety comes from?” She kind of pointed the question at me now. “Mom, can you take that paper and pencil and write a list of all of the people in your family who deal with anxiety?

Within moments, I wrote at least a half a dozen names on the list, myself included, of all of the people in our family who battle anxiety. I handed her the paper. Her next words shifted the world on its axis for me.

“You see, Luke, it’s not your fault. Mom, it’s not your fault. It’s not anyone’s ‘fault’ that you deal with anxiety. It is the way God made your brain. He gave you all a heaping dose of anxiety. All of our brains are made differently. The reason we are here is to understand that our worries, our fears are just feelings–just like happiness, anger, even hunger! But you feel the worry thoughts more strongly. It’s just the way God made you. We are going to learn a whole bunch of tools to help us get through those feelings when they happen…Luke, do you understand what I’m saying?”

He sat up straighter on the couch and I could hear his little voice quivering. “I didn’t know it wasn’t my fault,” he said. My eyes filled with tears. I tried to blink them back. Dr. Linda smiled at both of us.

“It’s not anyone’s fault,” she said to both of us.

We are now about three months into Luke’s (and consequently MY) therapy. Since we’ve begun, Luke has done things I never imagined him doing before. He volunteered to be a helper during a presentation at a field trip at the end of the school year. He has jumped off the back of a boat and a dock into a lake without any coaxing. We went to the zoo one day on one of the busiest days of the year and he didn’t cling to my side for one second. I don’t know if everyone experiences these kinds of changes just over a few months of therapy, but I will testify to how powerful the whole experience has been for him and our family.

I decided to open up about this because maybe you or your child are going through similar things. Maybe it’s not anxiety, but anger, depression or any other of the “cold, prickly” emotions that we hate facing. There is such a stigma in our world about mental health. But if I ever had any doubts, I am now a firm believer in the power of working through your issues with a professional mental health provider. Chances are that your kids are on summer break. This is a great time to schedule an appointment and get in before the new school year starts.

It is a bit of a journey into the unknown, and coming from someone who is severely uncomfortable with the unknown, I understand your worry, but it’s so worth it. I know for some people it’s an issue of expense. If your insurance doesn’t cover much or any of the expense involved, there are less expensive or even free resources for these services. Talk to your pediatrician or family doctor for a push in the right direction for your situation.

It isn’t always convenient to do these things, but I try to look at the bigger picture. We are prioritizing Luke’s mental health now while he’s young so that as he grows into a young man, he will hopefully have a better handle on his emotions and won’t be seeking out self-destructive ways of coping with them later. I would encourage you to do the same for your child. It’s not your fault, but you can do things to make life’s tough stuff easier to deal with.

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Here is Luke at the water park. He used to hang right by my side the whole time, but here he was splashing and playing and having fun with his brother, sister and cousins.

Let Them Be Kind and Let Them Be Strong

“Mom, is it cooler to be a girl than it is to be a boy?”

I looked up from the stove where I had been making dinner. Noah was looking at me with his big hazel eyes and the question was asked in complete earnestness. “What do you mean, buddy?” I asked.

“Well, it’s just that whenever you watch t.v. or see the clothes people wear- like t-shirts that say ‘Fight like a Girl,’ or whatever, it feels like people think girls are more special than boys. There are songs about girls being stronger than boys and it seems like everyone thinks girls are more important. I mean, I thought we are the same.”

“Oh, Noah…Yes you’re right, God loves boys and girls the same amount. And we should all treat each other with love and kindness. But for a long time, some people thought girls were actually less special that boys. They thought our words and our thoughts were not as important. The leaders of the world didn’t let women vote, they didn’t think women should get paid the same amount of money for working the same jobs as men. So a lot of that is changing now. But the bad part is that some women think it’s their turn to treat men like they are less special or important than women to make up for all those bad years. It’s not right. Because God loves us all the same so we should all respect each other the same. Does that make sense?”

“I guess so,” he said, clearly unconvinced, looking slightly dejected, and walked back to the den to watch cartoons with this brother and sister.

I actually wanted to cry for him. I have wondered so many times lately, how I am going to be able to raise sons with positive self-worth in a time where the reputation of men is tarnished by the news, peppered with the stories of men who have committed horrific acts against women. In recent months, countless women have stepped forward, with jaw-dropping accounts of injustice committed by men. The #MeToo movement, and others like it, seek to bring these victims’ voices to the forefront and justice to those who have wronged them.

Of course I am fully behind the concept of all people being treated with respect and dignity. But I have to agree with Noah, it is starting to feel like the scales are tipping the other way. I have sat down to watch shows with the kids and the men on these newer kids’ sitcoms are made to be complete imbeciles. The fathers are always portrayed as these ditzy losers who are only capable of slapstick and dumb jokes. Why are we not giving our boys positive role models to look up to? The world needs less Homer Simpsons and more Jack Pearsons.

We, as mothers, have not only an opportunity, but a responsibility to show our sons how to respect women but also remind them of their self-worth. And we are not going to be able to do that very effectively if we are constantly screaming “Girl power!” or “Men suck!” Because let’s be real for a minute; it’s not just men. There are just people in this world, men and women, who are making poor choices by disrespecting the opposite sex.

Even though I’m trying hard not to let time pass any faster than it has, I sometimes think about when Noah and Luke will be young men and want to ask girls out on dates. I am hopeful that I will be able to impress upon them the social graces to know to ask respectfully.  I also pray that they aren’t afraid to ask because of society trying so hard to emasculate them.

I was at a get-together just this weekend talking to a friend about all of this and she told me she has the same concerns for her kids. She said that her husband does the majority of the cooking and household tasks and she reminds her kids constantly that they have a very involved and helpful dad. This is what we need to be doing, ladies! While we all need a minute to vent about our husbands, let’s try harder to raise up these guys, especially to our children. And men, it helps if you give us reason to feel inspired to sing your praises.

The media is not ever going to be quick to report the happy news of the world. The most sensational, best-selling news stories are the ones that make your skin crawl. Thankfully, most young kids are not really watching the news as their window to the world. They are, however, watching us. So the responsibility falls on us as mothers and fathers to show our children the goodness in the world and it starts at home. We need to be loving to our spouses. We need to be fair to them. We need to stop passing blame and start taking responsibility for our part in it all. The score-keeping game that so many couples engage in is harmful not only to our marriages, but to our children’s perception of the world because we are shaping it right here, right now.

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I am so proud of my two little men. Let them be both kind and strong.

The Best Bucket Fillers I Know…

Frustrated by the layer of chaos accumulating on our dining room table turned collect-all-life’s-odds-and-ends holder, I began to make piles of the kids’ school work. I got to Grace’s pile and a lump formed in my throat. My boys’ papers are more refined, black and white, and resemble what you think of when you see “school work.” Grace’s papers are smudged with finger prints, paint, crayon doodles, and her name scrawled on the back of everything in big capital letters. I scooped up the mementos of her last year of preschool and took them to the basement to put them into a special box that I have for each of the kids’ most precious school work. And as I closed the lid, the tears started pouring down my face. My last baby is almost done with preschool.

As if this weren’t sad enough, we will also be saying so long to two of the best human beings I have ever had the honor of calling my children’s teachers since we have no more kids going through the school after Grace. Mrs. Leslie and Mrs. Shannon have been a shining light in our kids’ education. I know it’s just “preschool,” to some, but they have set a foundation for our kids teaching them so many of the basics like writing their names, counting, sorting and pre-reading but more importantly, what it means to follow directions, how to be “bucket-fillers”–how to be a friend to all.

I cannot believe after this month we will be parting ways and never again will I see Ms. Shannon’s beaming smile from the drop-off door or hear Mrs. Leslie singing the line-up song to our kids. We won’t have another Muffins for Moms day or field trip to Turtle Creek. I know we have so many other wonderful memories ahead of us, but these years with our kids’ in Mrs. Leslie and Mrs. Shannon’s class were magical (Oh! And Mrs. Candice when you subbed too!).

I just wanted to take a moment to say a special thank you to you on Teacher Appreciation day and to tell you, there should really be Exemplary Human Appreciation Day where you are the standard. We will always hold a special place in our hearts for you. So if you see me burst into tears on May 23, I hope you know,

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it’s not just about my baby growing up. You will be missed greatly! But I know your future students will love you just as much as we do.