A couple months ago I woke up in a sweat at about 4am. My heart was pounding and my thoughts were racing with all the things I was doing wrong as a mom. It’s a familiar feeling for this mom who is figuring out parenting while also battling anxiety. This time I was unusually focused in my worries that typically bounce all over the place and never settle on any one thing. This time, in my 4am grog, my thoughts were all landing on one specific thing – the screens that were running my house. But this time was different.
This time I couldn’t turn off that inner voice telling me something was wrong. It wasn’t really a feeling of guilt in my gut lying to me and trying to convince me I am a terrible mom. No, it was conviction and it was nudging me to acknowledge what I knew was true: my kids were spending too much time in front of screens and it was hurting our family.
Instead of being greeted with sleepy smiles and silly chatter in the morning I woke up to, “Where’s your phone?” Rather than stories about recess and class and friends and art work, I picked up the kids from school and heard, “Can I have your phone?” Meals were rushed through because a movie had been paused to come to the table and the kids were eager to return to it.
Attitudes were affected and the kids were bickering more than usual – over which movie to watch, whose turn it was to play with my phone, and who had the volume up too loud. Whining was at an all time high. So was anger and frustration.
Instead of playing “I Spy” or singing along to the radio or listening to “Polar Bear, Polar Bear” on audiobook, road trips consisted of faces staring into glowing blue boxes – only interrupted by exasperated cries when the battery died. Those glowing rectangles had become a place of rest and refuge and escape, and not just for the kids.
I found myself staring at my own phone until my eye lids drooped and I set it on the nightstand before falling asleep, only to reach over upon waking up in the morning to check any notifications before starting my day. When anxiety hit in the 4am hour, I would reach for my phone to distract me until the panic passed. Instead of including my kids in dinner prep I handed them the iPad or turned on the television so I could work uninterrupted.
The screens were occupying too central a role in our home and it was changing our family interactions.
As a mom whose main mantra chants “connection, connection, connection!” I’m disappointed in myself. But I’ve learned to tell the difference between guilt that condemns and conviction that guides. I’ve learned to speak truth to the former and listen to the latter.
So I listened to what conviction was telling me and I knew it was time to get rid of the screens. Not because they are evil. Not because our way of doing things is the best way for everyone. But because they were hindering the health of our family and taking them out of our lives is what’s best for us.
It’s been a couple months and in that time my children haven’t touched an iPhone or an iPad. Their television time is limited to an hour per day and has to be done before dinner time or it doesn’t happen. I deleted any midnight games (candy crush) off my phone and only left the apps I use to communicate with my people.
The first few days were tough, I won’t lie. But we kept in mind the reason we made these changes: our family values of kindness, community, connection, creativity, imagination, education, and heart/mind/physical health were at risk.
A week later I wrote down a few reflections on the fruits of going screen-free. The kids were splashing in a tub filled to the brim with Elmo bubble bath and warm water. The oven was preheating and so I could pop in a frozen pizza. John hid in our bedroom trying to finish writing the next day’s sermon.
That day we had eaten chocolate chip cookies, built a rocket that fueled by vinegar and baking soda (which turned out to be a colossal fail, but brought a ton of laughs), and strung beads on shoelaces to make “family hug bracelets.” (Trolls, anyone?)
We played 4 games of Candy Land, 3 games of Chutes & Ladders, and built a Lincoln Log village. Mareto and I watched and rated a Barbie Fashion Show Arsema put on for us. Then I read a few chapters of a new book while the kids watched an episode of Diego.
The previous week had looked pretty close to the same and the weeks following continued the pattern. We painted butterfly refrigerator magnets and rocks to hide in our community. Friends came over to play out back while us parents ate a fresh batch of naan. We went to story-time at our local library and Arsema “wrote” her first book. Mareto made a space ship out of legos and they spent two hours making mud pies in the backyard the other day. We go to the pool and the playground and walk the dog.
It’s not perfect, but it’s working. Attitudes and sleeping habits have improved. Creativity and imagination are increasing. And most importantly, our connection and communication is growing and strengthening.
There are still moments when I think screens would make life easier. For instance, the nine-hour road trip we recently took as a family would have been far more enjoyable with some phones in the back. But as chaotic as it was, hearing “Are we there yet?” and “What state are we in now?” brought back memories from my own childhood and made me laugh. And nothing could stop my smile when I heard Arsema pipe up from her car seat, “Let’s play I Spy Something Red!”
Dinner takes twice as long to cook, the cleaning the house is like brushing your teeth while eating oreos, and getting work done in these summer months has been… challenging. Sometimes I wonder if I’m adhering too strictly to this “screen-free” thing. And perhaps I am, but the change in my family has been worth it, so for now it’s what we’re sticking with because it works for us.
What works for you and your family might look different. But if something is waking you up at 4am, and it sounds more like conviction than guilt, try listening and see if it might be showing you to try something new in your home.
** This is not a prescription for all families! I understand and agree that technology has many good uses and I am grateful for it. If screens are helping your family and using them meshes with the values and the mission of your home, wonderful! You do you and I’ll do me and we can all be friends!
One evening I made brownies after the kids were long in bed. I have a sweet tooth, and John and I had decided to enjoy warm fudge brownies fresh out of the oven while we watched a movie. Before we went to bed I sealed the brownie pan with tin foil and hid it in the top shelf of the pantry, so the kids wouldn’t find it and beg for brownies for breakfast. I should have known better. The next morning Mareto came downstairs as usual and sat on the couch with his toys and juice. I watched as he sniffed the air, looked at me, and said, “I smell chocolate.” The next thing I knew he was walking to the kitchen, climbing on the counter, and opening the pantry door. He reached up and pulled down the pan of brownies. How in the world had he smelled them all the way from the living room?
Mareto pays attention to all the little things in life. He sees and smells everything. It might be my t-shirt or the back of a stranger’s hand or the muffins baking in the oven. No matter how awkward or inappropriate, this attention to detail has made for some really unexpected moments, and some equally beautiful moments.
Like when we were walking through the woods and he stooped to pick up a rock that was shaped like a heart, or noticed the falling tree was bent over like the arch of a rainbow. Or how delighted he is that the back of a CD makes the colors of a rainbow and that my wedding ring will splash light over the wall when the sun hits it just right. Mareto sees all these small, beautiful, seemingly insignificant things, and he loves them.
I get too wrapped up in the big things a lot of the time. I forget to stop and appreciate the little things. I worry about bills, or school decisions, and I miss the beauty that is happening right in my living room or at my kitchen table or right outside my window. I think about later today and tomorrow and ten years from now so much that my focus isn’t on the right now. I don’t see the things that are right in front of me in plain sight. I look past them to the “what-ifs.” But we get just one trip around the world, and we don’t want to waste it.
Can I confess something to you? A few weeks ago I wasn’t excited about summer break at all. The thought of my kids out of school for nearly three months had me panicking before the last day of school even arrived. I started thinking about my own to-do list: the manuscript I need to finish, the two new projects I’m working on, and the speaking, traveling, and writing that is filling up my calendar. But then I remembered last summer.
Last summer my daughter was covered in bandages from a big surgery that kicked off our summer break. Then two weeks later I had my own major surgery and was laid up until the very end of summer break. When the kids started school and I looked back over our twelve weeks I felt cheated – summer felt wasted. We hadn’t been able to do all the fun things I wanted to do because half our family was recovering from very serious surgeries. This year is different. This year it might not be surgeries that eat up our summer break – it might be my to-do list.
I think back to that sobering truth that we only get one trip around the world. And most of us only get eighteen summers with our children home with us. So I made a different to-do list. Our family summer bucket list. And with that one simple act, my perspective shifted and I am now so looking forward to this summer with my kids at home.
Taking my cues from Mareto, I kept our bucket list fairly simple because it’s the little things that bring joy and delight and beauty to our lives. I also kept it reasonable (36 activities + 12 weeks of summer = 3 activities per week.) No need to go from doing nothing to doing everything and ruining summer by adding too much stress and pressure!
Last, I made a scrapbook to go with our bucket list. I can take a single photo while we’re enjoying each activity then tape it on the page and jot down a silly, fun, or sweet memory from that specific activity. When summer ends we’ll have a special scrapbook to look back on all the memories we made together as a family.
If you want to join our family, I made these two resources: our summer bucket list + the family summer scrapbook template available to you too – click here to download yours for free!!
We passed a slope of grass covered with rows of flags, placed there the day before. Each row had a number, a label, to identity what those flags stood for… who those flags stood for. The kids asked from the backseat…
“What are all those flags there for, Mom?”
“Memorial Day.” I answered. “What’s that?” They asked, as faces began to pop into my mind of friends who died in the desert at what should have been the start of the rest of their life, not the end.
I didn’t want to tell my children. I don’t want them to know about war yet. I want to preserve their youthful innocence for as long as I can. But the question was asked and it isn’t my job to shield them from truth. My job is to answer the tough questions and walk with them through the hard truths of this world. It’s my job to prepare them for reality, not keep them suspended in fantasy.
I want to raise children who see the world in all it’s broken beauty, who reach out to help, and serve, and even sacrifice for their neighbors. And so we approach Memorial Day with that same outlook.
The broken of this world is that evil exists and war is truly horrific. The beauty is that good men and women outnumber the evil and, throughout history, have been willing to die so that others might live.
So that’s how I answer my children. Memorial Day is a day we set aside to remember the men and women who have died so that we might live. It’s the day we honor the broken beauty of their sacrifice.
My husband is giving the prayer at a local Memorial Day ceremony and asked me to read it over beforehand. I read this portion with my children this morning…
We ask, oh God, for your Spirit of comfort to draw especially close in these moments to the families who have lost loved ones in sacrifice for our freedom. It is these sacrifices and selfless acts of love for the people of this nation that we honor. This morning, we remember them.
This morning, we remember the fathers and mothers who have left children behind. We remember the husbands and wives who have left spouses behind. We remember the brothers and sisters who have left siblings behind. We remember the sons and daughters who left parents behind.
God, we remember the truth that there is no greater love than the kind of love displayed by our service members in laying down their lives for the sake of their friends – their families, their neighbors, their fellow man.
We pray that their memory might live on in our own lives and hearts, as we seek to emulate their honor, courage, selfless sacrifice, and love. So bless the memory of those we gather to reflect upon. May we reflect upon their sacrifice and duty, remember their devotion to our nation, and call attention to their selfless acts of greatest love in a manner that brings you honor and glory.
I was eleven years old when two terrorist blew up the Oklahoma City federal building on April 19, 1995. I grew up in a home without a television and I don’t remember the radio playing much. It was mostly Raffi CD’s, James Taylor, Carol King, and a few of my Dad’s Led Zepplin tracks mixed in. My siblings and I learned about current events from my parents and in terms we could understand and digest.
So when I went to school April 20th I was shocked to hear my classmates saying words like “bomb” and “bloody” and “blown up” as they talked about buildings and trucks and babies. Finally, our teacher decided to have a classroom conversation instead allowing a room of fifth graders to continue one upping each others stories about what they had seen and heard on the television the night before. So she invited us to raise our hands and share what we were thinking and feeling.
I listened to my peers for a few minutes and felt my hands get clammy and my blood run cold. My heart pounded in my chest and I wanted to close my eyes and ears to all that was being said around me. I left my seat and walked up to my teacher and asked to leave the room. She sent me to the nurse’s office and they called my mother.
When my mom arrived at school I climbed into the passenger seat of our new Windstar minivan and we sat silently for a few minutes. Then I asked my mom what happened and she told me plainly, but without all the graphic descriptions my classmates had used. Then we sat for a bit longer as I digested terror for the first time in my life. I couldn’t do it. I was horrified and frightened. So my mom said, “We can pray. Do you want to?” I nodded.
I don’t remember the pray or how I felt after. I just know that stuck with me. When terror became real to me, and I couldn’t process it and fear ran through my veins, my mom came to me and we prayed.
Four years later my dad was deployed and two teenagers shot up Columbine High School. I was a freshman in High School and once again that feeling of horror washed over me as I tried to close my eyes and ears to the news. I didn’t call home, but I wanted to. I didn’t sit in the school parking lot to pray with my mom. This time I went looking for my older sister in the halls of our High School. I just wanted to be near her while I tried to make sense of it… I couldn’t.
This too familiar scene has played out over and over again. Senseless violence and acts of terror crash down on innocent families who were simply living their daily lives one moment and in the next are either dead, maimed, wounded, or forever traumatized. And we watch it, helpless and confused from our televisions, computer screens, and smart phones. Terrorism does exactly what it intends – injects fear into the hearts of the world. I am not immune and I cannot make sense of it because it doesn’t make sense.
But I have learned this: we don’t have to pretend we’re not afraid because fear is nothing to be ashamed of. I just do for me and my family what felt necessary and right when I was a frightened child in the passenger seat of my parent’s minivan…
I seek out my people and move closer to them. My daughter left her room multiple times last night because she needed water, then a snack, then one more story, then she had a bad dream. And what would usually frustrate me brought comfort. I wanted to be close, to snuggle her, to gather her to me.
We pray. What, I don’t always know. “Jesus be near.” Or simply, “Help.”
We repeat the cycle together because there are no shortcuts or easy answers to how we respond to terror. But I want my children to know that when they are afraid they can come to me and look to God. That their fear will never be belittled by their mother or turned away by their Creator. That their confusion is normal and that as long as I’m able I will continue to gather them close and utter heartbroken prayers with them.
Last night I watched my twitter feed explode with images of children smiling for the camera and words that didn’t match. Things like, “This is my sister. She was at the arena and she isn’t answering the phone. Please share until we find her.” Over and over and over these messages poured out for sisters and friends and sons and cousins. And I felt the panic and terror and trauma of each one.
As I held my daughter to me I prayed, “Help. Help them find each other.” Because right now that’s all I want for every family with a loved one who was at the arena in Manchester. I want them to be united with their people.
But twenty two families won’t be united this side of heaven. All I have for this senseless, evil fact is the broken cry, “Jesus be near.”
I don’t thank God it’s them instead of me – I grieve and wish it hadn’t been any of us.
I don’t know how I thought I’d feel when this week finally arrived. I’ve been waiting for it for what feels like forever. I’ve dreamed and hoped and waited and worked and reworked and now the day has finally arrived.
It’s Okay About It is the product of more two years of love-filled labor. Today it is sitting on shelves in bookstores and arriving in your mailboxes and being held in hands from coast to coast. It’s overwhelming in the best way.
Today I am celebrating in extraordinary and ordinary ways. Today I wake up earlier than my tired body wants to. I groggily pad out to the kitchen and take long sips of freshly brewed coffee. I sat with the kids at the breakfast table and wonder for the 183rd time at the level of energy and exuberance they radiate at 6:30am. The dog chased a squirrel up a tree and then run inside to slurp up breakfast bits that have fallen “on accident” from the table.
It’s all so ordinary and normal. It’s the typical start to a Tuesday with a preschooler and kindergartner. Except today isn’t typical. Today waiting for me on that table was beautiful orange and blue flowers and balloons from my husband. And today after the flurry of packing lunch boxes, wrestling clothes onto wiggly bodies, tying shoes onto feet that don’t want to remain still for more than a nanosecond, and then finally getting out the door… after dropping the kids off at their schools with three or four kisses and a few enthusiastic waves we’ll do something extraordinary.
My husband and I will drive to a bookstore.
We’ll step in side and find the shelf that will have a handful of little blue and orange books lined up with my name on the binding. Oh my goodness. I will not be cool or calm or collected. I will be giddy, or maybe I’ll cry. I will have ALL THE FEELINGS! And we’ll just keep celebrating all throughout the day because my book is finally launched out into the world.
We’ll be celebrating online, too, and I’d love to have you join me today! This book wouldn’t be here without you, dear readers, and I am so grateful for each and every one of you. Here are a few ways you can join in the online celebration of the launch of It’s Okay About It…
- Head on over to your local bookstore and snap a picture of you with the book. Post it on social media and let me know where you took the picture. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #ItsOkayAboutIt so I can find your post! While you’re there, grab a copy for yourself or a friend!
- Did you pre-order a copy! Share when your happy mail arrives by posting a picture of you with your brand new book! And of course, hashtag #ItOkayAboutIt
- Tell me where you find inspiration and encouragement in daily life. This can be a whole blog post, a few lines on twitter, Facebook, or instagram… anything you want it to be! Just don’t forget to mention that we’re celebrating the launch of It’s Okay About It and use the hashtag #ItsOkayAboutIt so I can find you!
- Got a better idea? YAY! Can’t wait to see what you come up with!
Thank you so much for all your love and support… and mostly, for READING!!! I wrote this book for you and I can’t wait for you to read it!
(And head on over to my Facebook page for a video of my kids helping me open my box of books… and their expressions of disappointment that they weren’t books by Mo Willems. They keep me humble, that’s for sure!) 😉
Today I took my kids on a mini road trip to the strip mall about an hour away. We had lunch and got a few things they needed and a special treat each. On the drive home the sun was getting lower in the sky and the voices of two dear friends singing “It Is Well” flowed through my speakers. Out of nowhere my mind drifted back to some of the hard things we’ve walked through. I guess it’s become a habit for me – when life gets painful and difficult, I think back. We’ve been to a version of this place before. The sun set, but it also rose again.
My mind wandered through miscarriages and fertility testing… phone calls that crushed dreams and broke hearts. I thought about my baby boy in an Ethiopian hospital and the nights I cried myself to sleep afraid the morning would come and he would be gone. I thought about hospital visits and surgeries and diagnoses. I thought about the few weeks a three summers ago when we let our minds consider the possibility of our daughter having cancer. I thought about lies being revealed and trust being broken and relationships fracturing and life turning inside out.
I drove down the highway listening to my sweet friends sang “It is well… with my soul…” while hot tears fell and I swallowed hard. Is it really well with my soul?
It’s Good Friday. We call it “good” because hindsight is a special gift and we know what grew from the horror of the cross. We know that from death we were given life… first the burial, then the rising. Redemption was given new meaning. But on that first Friday there was nothing good to be seen. It was simply crushing.
I try to put myself in their sandals – the disciples, Mary, and the ones who loved and followed Jesus. They must have been shocked by the turn of events. The story seemed to be headed in a different direction. They watched miracles unfold before them. They walked side by side with God’s own Son and recognized him as such. But this didn’t feel like victory – the cross had defeat and devastation written all over it. They didn’t know Sunday was coming. They didn’t know that this unthinkable turn of events would last just three days. All they knew was the sting of death.
In this, I can relate to them well.
We live in a Good Friday world. We get these glimpses of Resurrection Sunday, but so often it feels as if we’re suspended in the three days between. It’s one long wait and everything is painful and confusing. Things that should be whole are broken instead. Life seems to be headed one way and suddenly we’re derailed by a phone call or a confession or a knock at the door. We’re frightened, heartbroken, and tired. Sunday seems so far off because we don’t know when it’s coming.
Good Friday is about pain and brokenness and sacrifice and grief. It’s when everything that ever went wrong with the world came crashing down on one person, and those who loved him and walked with him weren’t exempt from pain. Neither are we.
But they were delivered from it. As will we.
Some wounds have been healed and some haven’t. Some trust has been restored and some is still broken. Some friendships have mended and some heartbreaks healed, but some are fresh and brand new. Sunday feels so very far away.
But someday Sunday is coming. It might not be in three days, but it’s coming. That is the hope we have and the truth I cling to. The disciples moved through those three days with grief and despair, not knowing that Sunday morning would come and with it the Son would rise. But them not knowing how everything broken would be made right didn’t make the hope of Sunday any less true. The resurrection was coming whether they understood it or not.
I hold on to that hope. I do not understand how God is going to redeem or restore the broken pieces in my life. I don’t know when he’s going to fix the fragments of my heart.
My tears might last through a very long night… but joy will come when the sun rises. (Psalm 30:5)
I suppose that’s why I look back. When things get hard, I need to remember. I need to remember the times that life seemed unbearable and confusing and hopeless. And I need to see how far we’ve come, what was pieced back together, and what was made brand new. Today holds new hurts and new fears.
Bombs are dropping.
Children are being gassed.
Families are drowning.
Churches are fracturing.
Neighbors are yelling over fences.
Hearts are breaking and lives are shattering.
Today is Good Friday. Resurrection Sunday feels so far off. But it’s coming.
A few years ago Time magazine ran a story about attachment parenting. On the cover of the magazine a slender blonde woman stood with one hand on her hip staring confidently into the camera. In front of her stood her four-year-old son on a chair, breastfeeding. The cover asked in bold red letters, “Are You Mom Enough?” It caused an uproar.
I’ll admit that my initial reaction to the cover was one of anger and offense, just like many other women. Even though John and I practice some aspects of attachment parenting, we don’t subscribe to it all; and I never breastfed my children for a single day, let alone for four years. Was I supposed to assume I wasn’t a good enough mom? The simple answer is, of course not. Do I think the headline was a poor decision? Yes. Do I think the mom on the cover would question whether or not I am a good enough mom? No.
So I wondered why I and many other women had such a strong reaction to a cover suggesting that we’re not enough. And the answer was uncomfortable and obvious: because I didn’t have the confidence in myself.
You see, when we really believe that who we are is enough, then offensive headlines don’t rattle us. Instead we see them for how ridiculous and false they are. We can chuckle and shake our heads, or even feel a bit of sadness and compassion for the ones who really believe it. It doesn’t knock us off course or reignite the “mommy wars.” But that’s only possible if we really believe that who we are is enough.
We’re overwhelmed with mom-guilt at every turn. Advertisers use it to their advantage, using phrases like, “Moms who want to do what’s best for their babies use (insert product),” implying that moms who don’t use their product either a) don’t know what’s best for their children, or b) don’t care to do what’s best for their children.
Instead of arguing over whose method is best or right and who is doing a good enough job, I wish we’d channel that energy into highlighting the wonderful things in each of the parenting styles we moms use and make this world a friendlier and safer place for moms in general.
Instead of arguing over breast versus bottle, I wish we’d recognize how privileged we are that we even get to make that choice. Let’s put our energy into making sure every mother everywhere can feed her baby.
Instead of battling about homeschool versus public school versus private school versus Montessori, I wish we’d join hands to make education accessible, meaningful, fun, interesting, and safe for all children everywhere in the world.
Instead of judging the mom hovering over her toddler at the park or sitting on the bench looking at her iPhone, I wish we’d chat more and smile more and high-five each other for getting out of the house on a sunny afternoon. I wish we’d recognize that there are women in the world who live in war zones and can’t let their children go outside, let alone drive five miles down the road to a nice (free) playground.
When we aren’t enough, no one is enough—and we duke it out to prove ourselves.
But if we could view ourselves and others the way God views us, we’d all be a little less ready to argue, a little less offended, a little less harsh, and a little less judgmental. We’d know just how much we have to offer this world and open ourselves up to running headfirst into those callings. We’d feel safe and secure and confident. We would celebrate each other and help each other and love each other better.
Excerpted from my new book, It’s Okay About It… click here to pre-order today!
I sat on the couch, holding my breath, watching Mareto play with a pile of squishy rubber blocks. It was a warm summer morning, and Mareto was quiet and focused as he placed one block on top of another. I was silent, afraid to move and ruin his process. A little stream of drool began running from the corner of his mouth, a sign that he was really working hard to concentrate.
He reached over to the pile and grabbed another block to place on top of the first two. When he carefully set down that third block to form a small tower, I burst into cheers of joy and excitement as he looked up at me with pride in his eyes. I clapped enthusiastically while tears streamed down my face.
My husband and I had spent three mornings a week for almost a year sitting in a room covered with mats, watching the occupational therapist play with our son. As they played, she explained all the steps that our brains take to do something as basic as stacking three blocks.
On this day, Mareto was finally taking those steps.
What we once would have considered effortless and unimpressive was actually the result of hard work, many mistakes, and a great amount of energy. I thought about how much we take for granted, and I realized what a gift it is to feel this level of joy over my child stacking blocks. Then I laughed out loud when Mareto began working on a new tower—this one five blocks high.
And while we celebrated and cheered for Mareto when he hit this milestone, it was simply one moment of victory preceded by several other victories. I think we need to shift our mindset to create a new definition of success. We tend to define success in quantitative terms. We want to be able to measure it in order to feel that we have accomplished something. It could be easy to look at Mareto finally stacking his blocks as the moment of success, but what about the months of hard work that preceded that moment? Just because we can’t see results doesn’t mean we aren’t building a successful life one moment, one effort, one step at a time.
Success isn’t defined by one culminating moment, but rather all the moments that came before and all the moments that follow. Success was found in each time Mareto sat on the floor with his occupational therapist, every time he got frustrated and cried, every time he reached for a new block even through tears. Success was in the determination and perseverance shown by my son, even though things didn’t always go how he expected them to. And Mareto didn’t stop with stacking a tower of three or five blocks… today he’s building space ships with his legos and parking garages for his toy trucks.
What we tend to see as setbacks or standstills are actually turning points in our stories. They are little moments of victory hiding in the ordinary and extra-ordinary days that make up our one beautiful life. Learning to redefine success is just one of the many life lessons Mareto is teaching me as I watch him grow and experience the world through his own unique perspective. I’m so grateful I get to have front row seats to his story.
* * * *
April is Autism Awareness Month. I had the joy and honor of sharing a version the story above (excerpted from my new book), and other lessons I’m learning from my children at the Virginia Special Olympics on April 1st. I was so moved as the athletes erupted into cheers and applause at various points in the talk when Mareto came on the screen and I shared his various successes. If you love someone on the Autism Spectrum I invite you to check out my book, It’s Okay About It, and I would humbly suggest it as a gift for the “Autism Moms” in your life. And head on over to my Facebook page where I’m giving away a $30 Starbucks Gift Card to one lucky reader – see how to enter over there!
For Lauren, living with Mareto is a lot like playing the telephone game. He blurts out little phrases that have their origin in something he saw or heard, but by the time they make their way through his mind and back out of his mouth, they’ve transformed—often into beautiful truths about living a simple, authentic, love- and joy-filled life.
For all those looking to recapture the faith, simplicity, wonder, hope, courage, and joy of life, It’s Okay About It provides a guide to look inward and live outward, to discover the most wide open and beautiful life possible.
Last night my husband was working late and I had just finished tucking the last little one into bed. I came downstairs and began to tidy up the dinner dishes, then walked into the living room where our dog was curled up in her bed dreaming about chasing squirrels or birds or deer. The house was quiet and calm again. I stood in the middle of the living room for a moment trying to breathe in the peace but about a half second later tears were streaming down my face. So I sat down on the couch and wept.
I’m tired. We haven’t slept much for the past month (six years, really.) The 11pm, 1am, 3am up for the day wake ups are wearing everyone down to the bone. I’ve got a knot between my shoulder blades from the constant tensing that happens when I’m trying to keep someone from hurting themselves or breaking the furniture or running into the street or hurling something across the room. My throat is a little sore from the talking, pleading, reassuring, and crying. I need a nap… and maybe a massage.
But that’s not why I’m crying. I can withstand a pretty good amount of physical exhaustion and most days my patience, while at times runs thin, doesn’t run out. No it’s not that. It’s the break and the cracks and the throb in my heart for the people I love most in this world. I look into the face of my little person – who I would give both kidneys to in a heartbeat – and watch as trauma and fear and anger and hurt pours out. It’s the pain of watching that little one suffer and not know how to help. There are some hurts too deep for even a mother’s love and it breaks my heart.
The words a doctor gave us over a year ago are still ringing in my ears, “This isn’t a sprint it’s a marathon.” I know that is true, but that do you do when you get to the point of the marathon where your muscles are cramping and you’ve hit a wall of fatigue? You’re trying to pace yourself but all you can do is gasp for air, reach for water, and let out a groan. The finish line is nowhere in sight and you’re feeling desperate… and scared. The future can be intimidating when you just aren’t sure tomorrow will be any better than today. And what if it’s worse?
I’m all out of answers, all out of energy, and running quite low on hope. I have just about nothing left and that’s when I find myself weeping on the couch with only one prayer left.
“Jesus the one you love is sick.” *
I have to remember that Jesus loves my children more than I do, as hard as that is to comprehend. I have to remember that God sees us even when I feel so very unseen. I have to remember that he is still with us, even when I feel lonely. I have to remember that our story isn’t over yet, even when I feel hopeless. And today? Today I just have to do the next right thing, knowing that sometimes the next right thing is to sit and cry on the couch… and then it will be to get up, dry my eyes, and start all over again. Because the one I love is sick and I’m in this race until the very end.
* John 11:3
“Skiddle merinky dinky-dink, skiddle merinky-doo… I luvvv youuu!”
Mareto learned a new song at school this week and he’s been singing it us each day. There’s nothing quite like hearing your child tell you he loves you, whether it’s in song or a spontaneous moment of connection. Mareto has taught me so much about love in his four years of life and I’ve come to believe our children are our best teachers. Love is so much more than saying or hearing the words though…
Love is expressed in many ways, and as nice as the words are to hear, they are unnecessary to express true love. For a long time Mareto struggle to verbally express anything – needs, wants, thoughts, etc. But I never doubted his love for me just because he couldn’t say it out loud. Mareto expresses his love through his actions – it’s in the way he can’t fall asleep without one of us laying next to him until his breath gets slow and deep and he drifts off. It’s in the way he grabs our hands and says, “come and play!” in his sweet and cheerful little voice. It’s in the way he runs out of school and into our arms every day because he is so excited to be with us again. It’s in the way he comes to wrap his arms around me when I stub my toe and asks, “mommy got a boo-boo?” Words are overrated when it comes to love. Mareto reminds me every day that love is a verb.
Love covers a multitude of mistakes. There are evenings when the kids are in bed that I replay the day in my mind and wish I’d done so many things differently. I feel sadness, regret, disappointment in myself, and a whole host of negative emotions that don’t do any good. Sometimes I feel like I fail so much as a mom. As I think back on the day I wish I’d been more patient, calmer, more creative, more energetic, more… anything. Maybe if I’d just been moreMareto wouldn’t have had a two hour meltdown. Maybe if I’d just been more he would sleep better at night or eat better at meals. And then I hope — I hope my attitude didn’t upset him, I hope I didn’t make him sad by not understanding his needs, I hope I make him feel safe, secure, loved, and understood.
But do you know what happens? The most amazing thing — Mareto wakes up the next morning delighted to see me! He literally squeals in delight every morning and runs full speed into my arms. He kisses me all day and snuggles me when he’s tired. He runs to me when he’s hurt and grabs my hand when he is hungry. Despite all my failures Mareto still loves me and forgets (or doesn’t even notice) when I don’t get it quite right. He doesn’t hold my failures against me – he loves me anew every day.
Love overcomes. I’ve struggled with a lot of fear and anxiety over the years – anything from the fear of flying to fear of disappointing others and the unknown. Mareto has taught me that while love doesn’t always remove our fears, it does allow for courage and the strength to walk forward in spite of our fears. I’ve flown across oceans simply out of total love for my children. And when, less than two years later, a doctor diagnosed him with autism I was afraid of what the future held for Mareto, for myself, and for our family. But love had me staying up reading and researching late into the night. Love had me setting up evaluations, therapy schedules, and rearranging our life to fit our new normal. Love means that I fight for his rights and call “professionals” out on their behavior when they aren’t working in the best interest of my son – even though I hate conflict. Love causes me to write, and speak, and share, and advocate for my son and others like him, because when you love someone you do everything you can to make their world a better place.
Loving Mareto has stretched me in the best possible ways. Loving him has, at times, been sacrificial and selfless, but it has felt very selfish. Because he has loved me back with the most pure, innocent, uninhibited, and beautiful kind of love. Mareto has not taken from my life, he has only added to it. He has taught me about love simply by being himself and loving better than anyone I’ve ever met.
This post was written as a Valentine’s Day special for Autism Speaks in 2015.
For more of Mareto’s sweet and simple, but remarkable life lessons pre-order my book, It’s Okay About It today! It will be in stores on May 2nd.
Living with my five-year-old autistic son, Mareto, is a lot like playing the telephone game. He blurts out little phrases that have their origin in something he saw or heard, but by the time they make their way through his mind and back out of his mouth they’ve transformed—often into beautiful truths about living a simple, authentic, love- and joy-filled life.For all those looking to recapture the faith, simplicity, wonder, hope, courage, and joy of life, It’s Okay About It provides a guide to look inward and live outward, to discover the most wide open and beautiful life possible.