The struggle is (still) real

Work/Life balance, if there is such a thing, is a topic for many blogs. When you throw in only having kids half of the time, it adds a wrinkle. This week, for example, we have the kids on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. On Wednesday evening I have a long-scheduled meeting/event. Thursday evening was the only night on which a twice-cancelled dinner with good friends could be rescheduled. So, both nights I will be home after bedtime. Not only is it sad that my interaction with the kids is limited 30 minutes in the morning before I go to work, but I feel bad for Tim, who has to bear the load completely this week.

In traditional nuclear families with two working parents, I’m sure this happens all the time. But those situations probably also allow for an hour on Monday night or some quality time on Saturday morning to catch up with the kids. It’s just tough, right? I feel like I have said that a lot over the last two weeks. This is all just so much harder than I thought it would be some days.

I don’t have the answers–just these reflections. And this little reality check comes in the midst of some awesome anecdotes I can’t wait to share in future posts. These kids are hilarious, growing, and teaching me something every day.

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A Resolution for Fun

I am not a permissive parent. You probably could guess that about me. There aren’t a lot of sweets, the kids pick up after themselves, and bedtime is a pretty regular routine.

Even though I am glad for the routine and structure, sometimes I worry. Should my role as a stepmom be less of a parent and more of a friendly aunt type? Do they see me just as an enforcer of rules and a driver to activities and maker of school lunches? Do they think I’m fun?

In our house we talk a lot about how people are good at different things. Ana is a great runner. Dad is a great referee. Yoseph is good at Legos. And when you ask the kids what I am good at, they say cleaning. Ouch.

Though true, it’s a little sad. I’m not good at sports. I am good at organizing closets. I’m not good at painting or drawing. I am a good public speaker, but they don’t know that (nor would they care at this point in their lives). I am also excellent at sarcasm, something they will not appreciate as teenagers, I am sure.

So in my moments of insecurity as a stepmom, I reflect on the fact that the kids think of me as someone who cleans the house, makes meals, keeps clothes clean, but may not be particularly fun. Of course, someday they’ll look back and know that these acts of service were a way of showing how much I love them. It took me until about age 19 to begin to appreciate all that my mom did for me (sorry, Mom).

So until those days come, I’m going to make sure that the structure is tempered with some fun activities.

–A birthday cake to celebrate Alexander Hamilton’s birthday because these #HamilKids are the biggest fans ever

–An impromptu trip to the movies on a school night (we saw Sing, it was cute)

–Missing a few hours of school to see the Governor’s Inauguration Ceremony

inauguration

Structure is good–but so is fun. So 2017 will be the year we find a better balance of that in our house!

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Feeding the Hungry

I saw this great idea for a Reverse Advent routine, where instead of opening a little gift in anticipation of Christmas, you donate a food item from your pantry every day. You gather them into a box and then donate to a food pantry to help feed the hungry. With my love of an unseasonably early Christmas, we have had Advent calendars since October (if not September), Disney Tsum Tsums for Ana and Star Wars Lego for Yoseph. But this seemed like a great idea to keep the kids (and me and Tim) sensitive to the fact that we have so much and should be giving back. So I made a stop at Aldi this week and stocked up on canned veggies, macaroni and cheese, and other staples. I wrapped an Amazon box in Disney Christmas paper and was feeling generous and, truth be told, a little smug.

When I introduced this idea to the kids on Friday, December 2, they warmed to it immediately. Just as they got to open two days of Advent surprises for 12/1 and 12/2, Yoseph suggested we donate both a healthy item and a delicious snack for the two days of Advent to our food for the hungry box. My heart was bursting with pride.

He dug around in the pantry, ignoring my instructions to get a can of corn or box from one of the lower shelves where I had stashed my recent canned good purchases. He emerged with a box. “What about these strawberry fruit strips?”

Ummmm. Those strawberry fruit strips are MY favorite healthy snack. I stalled for a moment and then realized that this was exactly the lesson I was trying to teach them–except that Yoseph was teaching it to me. As we work on when the kids sort through their toys a few times a year for donation drives, we wanted the kids to understand giving up something of value and contributing something of value, not just cast-offs. Gosh, it’s convicting when a 7 year old shows you the way…

food-pantry

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Meet Fergus

Though Fergus has been a member of our family for a few months, I haven’t shared the story of how he arrived. fergus-d

Tim had long been ready to add a furry member to our family, but I was reluctant. I knew I would eventually relent and confronted with a summer in which I had more free time than usual, the idea started to take root. It was solidified one weekend after I sat down to pay the bills.

While going through bills and paperwork, I realized that I had not yet tithed on a chunk of money we earned through side work. I sighed as I realized how much this would tax our budget that month. But we have made a commitment to pay God first, and so, even when it looks like money will be tighter than usual, that’s what we do.

I scheduled our payments and realized I must have missed something. After double and triple checking my math, we had more money left than we were supposed to have. Maybe you will want to call this an accounting error; I don’t. I manage our budget and bills monthly and this has never happened. I believe God showed Himself faithful to us that month (July) to encourage us in the midst of my unemployment. And we had the exact amount that we had been discussing it would take to adopt a dog.

So. We decided to go for it. One Saturday afternoon during lunch, we sat at our kitchen table and told the kids this same story. God had provided an extra “bonus” for us and we wanted to use it to do something fun for them. We gave them the chance to guess what that might be. “Monkey Joe’s?!” “A new toy at Target?!” “Go to a movie?!”

“Get in the car, and you’ll find out,” teased Tim.

So pile in, we did. And we headed toward the Indiana State Fairgrounds, where a pet adoption fair was being held that day. There was a large sign near the parking lot that used the word “Adoption”. We asked the kids if they had figured out where we were going because of signs they could read.

“Adoption?” Ana asked. “Is that for us?”

“Well, what would we adopt?” asked Tim.

“A baby?” she answered uncertainly.

“No, no babies for us,” I said. “What else do people adopt?”

“A DOG?” And all hell broke loose. There was screaming and shrieking and high-pitched squealing.  Suffice to say, we got the reaction for which we had hoped.

Long story short, we needed a dog that was less likely to trigger my allergies. Unfortunately we didn’t find one that day, despite two more stops around town and many sobs from Yoseph.

In the week following, after much searching and not much luck, I shared our challenge with a good friend who recommended Natalie’s Second Chance in Lafayette. That night, I analyzed their posts on Facebook and found two possibilities for us–so we made the 90 minute drive. One of our challenges was that I would have loved to have a 6-7# dog and Tim would have loved to have a 60-70# dog. But when we met Fergus that evening, Tim was willing to compromise to this 20# miniature schnauzer, ten years old, with almost all of his teeth pulled and a food allergy. I know the staff at the shelter were happy he had a new home, but it made us teary to see how THEY got teary saying good-bye to him!

fergus-a

Right after we signed the papers

So we took our new addition home and honestly, he settled in quite well. He had a few days with just us before the kids came home. And well, the rest is history!

​Our narrative leading up and in the days following the dog’s adoption was that we did it for the kids. But had I known how happy it would make this guy, I promise, I would have done it sooner.

fergus-b

The dog and I have our days. But the kids are learning lots about responsibility. And even though my house sometimes smells like wet dog, it was the right decision.

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Birthday Reflections

Last week, I celebrated my 37th birthday. My nieces made me these super special cards:

millie

Millie and her sperm balloons

claire

I will totally accept Claire’s declaration as a 9 year old that I am young. Yes. Game on.

Tim and the kids made me feel incredibly special over the span of several days. And though I cherish the beautiful flowers, jewelry, desserts, and gifts they treated me to, I keep thinking about a line my mom wrote in my card.

mellowed

“…you have mellowed.”

Whoa. That is a word that has never been associated with me in my entire life.

Even today, over a week later, I found myself reflecting on these words. I reflected on these words as I tried to straighten a pile of papers on the kitchen counter that, despite my best effort, never seem to disappear. I contemplated mellowness when I spotted smeared poop on the kids’ toilet seat and was too exhausted/over it to wipe it up. I wondered if it was being mellow that caused me not to freak out about walking on crumbs on the kitchen floor despite daily sweepings. I craved mellowness when Tim and I stripped the bed at 6am because Yoseph spit up medicine in his stubborn refusal to swallow it because it didn’t taste like bubble gum. I assume it is this newly found mellowness that kept me from a breakdown when the entire day’s plan was derailed by a 6 year old who couldn’t decide if his stomach hurt for real and a stepmom who wasn’t willing to risk it.

I know that by any definition, I will never be flexible or laid-back. But reflecting on my mom’s word–on her compliment–I realized that I am more mellow than I was. I ran a super tight ship as a single woman who lived alone and answered to no one. And, truth be told, I still run a pretty tight ship and I am blessed, BLESSED beyond measure to have a husband who embraces this about me instead of fighting it. And due to his grace, unconditional love, and flexibility and the grace of God, I’m learning to soften, to deal better with the unexpected, and dare I say, to become more mellow.

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But if you WANT Legos…

While practicing sight words this week, Yoseph struggled with the difference between “went” and “want”. His Gammy, Tim’s mom Dolly, suggested the following sentence as he was trying to sound out “want”.

sight words

“I WENT to the store because I ____ some Legos.”

He continued in his bewilderment and frustration for a little bit until he finally burst out with, “…because I GOT some Legos!”

I couldn’t stop laughing.

Good enough for now!

 

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God Cares About Legos

No, seriously. He does.

God cares about Legos.

At the beginning of July, I ordered a pack of Lego “guys” for each of the kids as a surprise. Avengers for Yoseph, Disney princesses for Ana. Yo’s arrived early but Ana’s weren’t projected to arrive until sometime between 8/1-8/22.

She handles disappointment so much better than the average 8 year old, but this situation did stick with her a bit. When she asked just how soon we could expect her package to arrive, I explained the very long timeline. In an attempt to cheer her for dealing with her long wait period, I said we could pray that God would make her package arrive early. However, that would mean it would need to arrive two weeks earlier than the earliest date declared by the almighty Amazon.com. She and I prayed together and then I texted my family to ask them to pray. After I tucked her in that Tuesday night, she asked me to pray once more that her Lego princesses would arrive early. I agreed.

On Wednesday when I picked the kids up from day camp, she asked if I had gotten the mail. “No, I haven’t been home since this morning,” I explained.

When we did arrive at home, there was no luck at the mailbox by the road.

I tried to lower her expectations as I pulled into the garage. Even though it was 4:45pm, “…maybe they will still come. Or maybe Dad picked them up earlier today.”

We walked into the kitchen through the garage. There, in a stack on the counter, were several packages of things I had ordered. Tucked inconspicuously between two large ones was a tiny white envelope addressed to Ana.

Seriously, I started crying. Why am I so surprised when God answers the prayers of a little girl with growing faith? She was excited and I was simply speechless. I had prayed with her, reminding God that though this was small in the long run, it was important to us. And He answered our prayers. And I was still surprised?! Shame on me and my little faith.

I texted my sister Abby to share the great news and thank her for praying along with her two older girls who are 7 & 9. She shared our great news with her girls and texted, “God is awesome. The girls aren’t surprised at all. Claire [age 9 going on 19] smiled and just said, ‘Yeah, we prayed for that. I knew He would’.”

Dear Jesus, thank you for restoring my faith in how much You care about the very small things. If You care about the small things like Lego princesses, I am reminded of how much You care about the large things! Thank you for reminding me that you have all aspects of my life under control, even when I don’t.

Lego princesses

Ana & her Lego princesses

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