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Just when I think I’ve got this whole motherhood thing figured out (which usually lasts about four point three seconds), one of my three throws another curve ball. This time it was my oldest.

For the majority of her seven years of life, my oldest has been my easiest- compliant, mature, helpful, gentle, trustworthy. She is big sister to two brothers (ages four and one) and exhibits first born qualities through out the day, every day. She is my helper, my sidekick, my shadow. So when, on a now forgotten date, some weeks ago, she began exhibiting behaviors I had never seen in her before, I quickly became more than a little perplexed.

Dark was her mood for many of those days, and not in the way of a young child, not in the way of her brothers when they pout or whine or lash out. This was different. This was new. -Honestly, she reminded me of my darkest days as a teenager, days when I was sullen and brooding and weepy with no idea why or what in the world to do about it. (“Can a seven year old be hormonal??” I kept thinking. “Surely not!”)- Many tears were shed over those few weeks (most of them hers, a couple mine), as I wondered what was happening to my girl and what was I, her mama, going to do about it? But it wasn’t until last week that I became alarmed when she not once, but twice within a few days time, was physically unkind to her brother.

Now I realize that in many households this is normal- siblings fight, siblings hit and push or worse- and would not necessarily be cause for alarm. But this has never been the case in our home. (ok, I take that back, my one year old hits when he is mad -or frustrated or whatever it is that one year olds get- and that was probably the case when my other two were that age as well.) But now, and for as long as I can remember, Meadow and Granite do not and have not been siblings that physically fight. So last week when one argument with Granite led to her angrily pushing him off the bed with her foot and another involved her hitting his leg in response to something he said, I knew something just wasn’t right. (Both times I happened to walk in the room right as she did it, allowing me to observe and understand in a way I could not have had I only learned about it through Granite telling on her. I think that was a God thing.)

So last Thursday night (after the morning that Meadow hit Granite’s leg, her second “offense”) we were in the car on the way home, Meadow and Granite bickering in the very back seat of the van, Chaz and I talking quietly in the front as I tried not to overreact to the bickering, and Canyon observing it all from his carseat in the middle, when I brought up the hitting incident and expressed my concerns about what was going on with Meadow. I had mentioned her behavior several times prior but not with as much emphasis or concern. “I don’t know what to do with her. I don’t understand where this behavior is coming from.” were some of my words to my husband. And it was right around that time that the bickering in the backseat escalated (once again, as had happened so many times that week, thanks to Meadow) to the point that Meadow was told by her father not to speak again until we got home (about five minutes away).

“You guys go on inside. I’m going to stay in the car and talk to Meadow.” were Chaz’s words to me as we pulled into our driveway. I gathered the boys and their bags, headed inside and began getting them both ready for bed, all the while thinking about my girl and wondering what was being said in the van sitting under our carport.

About fifteen minutes later father and daughter entered our back door and Meadow quickly, quietly headed to her room to get ready for bed, Granite following her close behind. I greeted them both from the couch then watched Meadow walk away, noting that I would talk with her after talking to my hubby. Standing, with Canyon on my hip, I asked my hubby how the talk went, what was said, what was her response to him. Almost immediately his eyes filled with tears. Alarmed and surprised I waited for him to speak. He recounted their conversation, speaking the words that brought his tears-

“A few minutes into the conversation it dawned on me to ask, ‘Has someone  been treating you that way?’ (referencing her hitting and pushing her brother), to which she immediately answered, ‘Yes, Amaya next door hits and pushes me sometimes and she yells at me.'”

At that point he paused, giving me a chance to gently ask, “Why the tears?”

“It’s just so pitiful. She’s never been treated that way by anyone. And you know it’s been on her mind by how quickly she answered me. Just picturing her dealing with that and thinking about that…” he kind of trailed off at that point, tears still filling his eyes.

We talked for a minute more before the older two ran back into the room, then decided to continue the conversation later, after all the loud short people were in bed. I hugged my husband fiercely, so very grateful for his care and concern for our daughter and our family, and kissed him goodbye as he headed back out the door to return to work for several more hours.

And for the rest of that night and for the past week since, Meadow has been back to her usual self- chipper, talkative, helpful, occasionally emotional, sometimes selfish, silly, gentle and kind. Her mood has been joyful, her aura light, her energy pure. Our home has returned to its usual state- quiet and peaceful, full of chatter and laughter, with a bit of arguing and bickering mixed in.

And all this week I have asked myself: How could one conversation with her daddy release my girl from the torment that was causing such ugly behavior, such emotion, such a dark mood for so much of those three weeks?

This is what I have come up with, these are the lessons I have learned (or relearned maybe?) from the kid next door:

1) Learn to ask good questions. I think sometimes our children/the people around us are hurting or thinking/feeling things that they need to express and just don’t know how to without a little prompting. Learn to ask good questions. And lots of them.

2) Don’t always take a child’s/person’s behavior at face value. Children/people are selfish creatures and much of their ugly behavior stems from this. But other times they are only reacting out of the hurt that they are experiencing or feeling. Don’t assume their bad behavior is just them being “bad”. It could be from them feeling hurt.

3) Don’t be naive and assume that the children your children are playing with are going to treat them with respect and kindness. Be observant. Be vigilant. Be appropriately protective, especially until your children are old enough to protect themselves.

4) And lastly: There is power in the spoken word. I have learned (relearned) this for myself recently as I have fought some ugly demons (another post for another time) and watched the stronghold that these demons have had on my heart loosen each time I confess/express/speak them to a friend or family member. I saw that same power the night Chaz talked with Meadow. So speak, my friends, speak! Find someone you trust, someone who loves you and speak your truth, speak your struggle, speak your demons. Find the faith, the humility, the guts, and speak! And if you have no one, no one in your life to listen with compassion, please, please message me. I know an incredible counselor and would love to pass along his number. I am also a willing listener myself. Speak what weighs on your heart and watch as the load begins to lighten.

I hurt when my children hurt. I so much want to protect them, protect myself, avoid any and all hurt as well as I possibly can. But I am also learning that life’s hurts usually lead to life’s greatest lessons. And that that is one small/huge piece in our story of redemption. So I  am also grateful. Grateful and learning and hurting and laughing. Thanks for reading, friends. Let me know if you need me.

Sincerely Yours,

~Echo~

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A Rare Good Night’s Sleep: Had.

Mug of Decaf Coffee: Savored.

One Year Bible: Read.

Sunshine: Admired.

Beds: Made.

Breakfast and Lunch: Served. And Eaten.

Blog Post: Posted.

Google Reader: Perused.

Grocery List: Started.

Phone Calls: Made.

Indoor Plants: Watered.

First Grade Bible, Reading, History/Geography, Math, Science, Writing/Spelling, and Piano Lessons: Taught.

Preschool Letters, Numbers, Colors, Shapes, Animals and Potty Training Lessons: Taught.

Most Dishes: Washed. Dried. Put Away.

Counters and Tables and Chairs: Wiped.

Living Room and Dining Room Floor: Swept.

Some (but Not Enough) Laundry: Washed. Dried. Folded. Put Away.

Toys, Games, Puzzles, Movies, Art Supplies, School Supplies: Picked Up. Put Away.

Piles: Er…Improved.

Crockpot Chicken and Potatoes with Organic Farm Fresh Squash and Zucchini Casserole and Giant Bowl of Organic Farm Fresh Watermelon: Prepared. Served for Dinner. Thoroughly Enjoyed.

Leftovers: Refrigerated.

Food Scraps: Composted.

Heat: Avoided.

100 Ounces of Water: Downed.

Pandora: Turned Up.

Baby (Still in Utero): Nourished. Held. Protected. Eagerly Anticipated.

Children: Hugged. Kissed. Held. Dressed. Fed. Taught. Trained. Reminded. Assisted. Reminded Again. Disciplined. Listened to. Read to. Laughed with. Snuggled with. Prayed with. Comforted. Adored. Enjoyed. Marveled At. Appreciated.

Husband: Missed. Appreciated. Kissed. Cuddled with. Enjoyed.

Friends and Family: Texted. Facebooked. Emailed.

Three Mile Walk: Taken.

Pregnancy Journal: Updated.

Labor: Anticipated.

Many Prayers: Uttered.

Blessings: Counted.

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Dear C,

First of all, thank you for your affirmations! I appreciate your encouragement so much. As you probably know, it is my tendency to focus on where I/we are lacking/weak and because of this I too often forget to just acknowledge and celebrate that which I/we have done and are doing well. So thank you for that reminder.

I started putting together this list after our talk/your questions the other night. These were the first things that came to mind. Please let me know if you have any thoughts/questions about any of these (or if you disagree with any of them! I want to hear that too.) I will try and write again soon with more detail and some examples. I hope you are having a good week with your munchkins and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on all of this!

So, let’s see, in no particular order…

1) Remember that YOU are in charge.

2) Be calm but FIRM in your discipline. Always.

3) Consistency, consistency, consistency.

4) Follow through. If you SAY you are going to do it (or not do it) you gotta DO it (or not do it).

5) Choose your battles carefully and only start the ones you are willing to finish. Because as the parent, you need to win. Every time.

6) The birth of your first child is a good time to go ahead and accept that you will have to repeat the same words and phrases about 8,000 times before that particular lesson becomes a habit/strength of your child’s. Accepting this will save you a lot of frustration and impatience later on.

7)  There is a significant difference in attitude between a child who believes they are worthy of great things and a child who thinks they deserve all things. Instill the former. And for your child’s sake (not to mention the sake of every person who will ever know your child) avoid instilling the sense of entitlement that comes with the latter.

8 ) Have great expectations. Children really are smarter and more capable than we tend to give them credit for. Ask more of them. They will rise to the occasion.

9) Think of not completely childproofing your home (with the exception of certain safety precautions. Some of those I understand.) as one giant teaching opportunity. Allow them the opportunity to learn to yield. And to learn respect for the word “no”.

10) Your example matters. If you want your children to be kind and respectful and patient and hard working…YOU need to be kind and respectful and patient and hard working.

11) Remember that the lessons you teach them and the home you create for them in their developmental years will be their “normal” and a point of reference for them for many, many years to come. Take the time to envision what type of adult you hope they will become. Because their journey towards being that adult begins TODAY.

12) Always keep in mind that your job is to work yourself out of a job. What’s cute at 1 and 2 will NOT be cute at 7 and 10 and 14. Do the hard work of intentional training NOW. And later you WILL reap the rewards.

13) Sibling rivalry, terrible twos and the dreaded teen years, at least in the sense that we refer to them, are all cultural myths. Believing that these are myths is the first step in helping them to become so.

14) Though every child is different, the BASICS of parenting remain the same. It is the details that should be adjusted to deal with varying temperaments, personalities, strengths and weaknesses.

15) FIRM boundaries and a good schedule will go a long way in making the rest of this possible.

Ok, so that’s all for now. (This ended up being a much longer list than I thought it would be when I started it! Guess I should have known that would happen…) Though training and discipline are both important (and often challenging!) parts of parenting, also remember to take a deep breath, SLOW down and ENJOY your munchkins! This is the hardest job you will ever have but it can also be the most fascinating, fulfilling and rewarding job you will ever have. Take time for the hugs and kisses, the stories and the questions, the jokes and the laughter. You will not regret those moments. I promise. 😉

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I had a moment with my five year old on Sunday. I don’t know what to call it really- precious, heartbreaking, hilarious…a misunderstanding- it was all of those.

Chaz and I and the kids are at Mazatlan. We are sitting at a long table with four other families. Granite is sitting between Chaz and me, Meadow is sitting at the end of the table with another couple. We all sit and talk and peruse the lunch menu until our waiter comes and takes our orders.

About five minutes after we have all finished ordering Meadow walks over and stands by my chair.

“Mama, can I have a cheeseburger?” she asks quietly.

“Oh honey, we already ordered,” I reply. “You’re gonna have some of the chicken that mommy and daddy are having. You can have a cheeseburger next time.”

Her expression changes but she doesn’t move, doesn’t speak.

“Please mom, can I have a cheeseburger?” she asks again after several moments of silence. (This is not unusual. Often she will ask for something, I will say no, and she will ask once more before I sternly remind her not to ask again when mommy has already said no) But this time was a bit peculiar. Usually her second time to ask for something is a bit whiney and more like pleading than asking. This second time was calm, but insistent.  Peculiar.

I pause, intrigued by her tone. “Did you ask daddy?” I ask her.

“Yes. He said no too,” she responds.

“Meadow!” I scold, “If daddy said no, you shouldn’t ask mommy. You need to respect what daddy said. We already ordered. You can have a cheeseburger next time.”

Another pause, then again, without whining but with a hint of tears in her eyes and in her voice. “Please mama, please can I have a cheeseburger?”

“No.” I reply, once more. “Mommy and daddy both said no. Do not ask again or you will be in trouble.”

And again quietly, this time with a tear or two escaping and running down her cheek, desperation in her voice, “Please mom. Can I have a cheeseburger?”

At this point I am appalled and more than irritated. I cannot believe she has asked four times for the cheeseburger! It’s like she is not hearing me at all! I turn to Chaz and ask him to talk to her, she sits beside him and cries as he does. I cannot hear what he is saying. I take the moment to calm my frustrations. Meadow stays in the chair beside Chaz for several minutes before returning to her seat beside our friends. I get distracted, talking to the couple beside us and forget, for a moment, what just occured between my daughter and me.

A few minutes later our table’s orders arrive.

“Chicken quesadilla?” the waiter asks. The friend sitting beside me responds that it is her’s.

“Cheeseburger?” he asks, holding up the next plate. No one responds. Several of us look at each other.

“Cheeseburger?” the waiter asks again. Still no response. “It must be another table’s,” someone says. The waiter sets it down and moves on.

In that moment I look at my husband. My eyebrows raise, and his do as well, as it dawns on both of us what has happened. We look over at our five year old. She is sitting in her chair, tears streaming down her face, looking stuck and absolutely miserable.

“Did you order a cheeseburger?” I ask her. She nods miserably. I resist the urge to burst out laughing. I find the situation both hilarious and pitiful all at the same time.

I turn to the couple sitting beside her, “Did she order it all by herself!?” (this has never happened before)

“She said that was what she wanted. We helped her order it.” they respond.

We tell the waiter who ordered the cheeseburger and I look at my daughter as he sets it down in front of her. She is still crying.

My heart melts as I become fully aware of the situation- She expressed to our friends what she wanted to eat. They ordered it for her. She realized then that she had not asked first, so she asks, after the fact, probably not expecting us to continually and firmly say no. She can’t get a yes, but knows its already been ordered and doesn’t know what to do. (why she didn’t just tell us that she had already ordered it and deal with it that way, I do not know.) So she asks way too many times, then falls to pieces as the inevitable arrival of the unauthorized cheeseburger becomes more and more imminent. Oh. My. Word. My heart melts.

I stand up from my chair, walk over to my daughter’s chair and motion for her to follow me. We find a quiet corner in the restaurant (in an effort to avoid embarrassing her further by talking to her in front of the entire table) and I hold her in my lap as she cries. We talk. I explain to her that it was one big misunderstanding, that she is not in trouble, that I’m sorry for the misunderstanding, that sometimes misunderstandings happen. I tell her it is ok for her to eat her cheeseburger, remind her again that she is not in trouble and hold her tightly, whispering a few more assurances into her sweet smelling curls.

She says she does not want her cheeseburger, that she is not hungry, that she just wants to go home. I tell her I understand that she is emotional, that we should take some deep breaths and go back to the table and eat. She repeats her first statement. I realize then that continuing to talk about it is probably not going to help. I change the subject. I suggest that we set the cheeseburger aside, eat it later when she does get hungry, and work on coloring a picture for her aunt who has had an emotional morning too. This idea peaks her interest. She stops crying, asks why her aunt is emotional, then gets excited about drawing a picture to help her aunt not be sad anymore.

I take her back to the table and sit her between me and her brother. She shares half of her fries with him, dumping a mound of ketchup onto her plate for him to dip his fries in. We talk and color and eventually her appetite returns.

As I watch her sitting beside me, eating her burger and fries, coloring her picture and talking to her brother, I am reminded how much I adore my children. I think about how important good communication is. I realize that, even in ridiculous and irritating situations, I am so, so blessed to be a mama of two fascinating, complicated, unique little people. And I decide that when I get home, I will have to write a blog post about the inevitable arrival of the unauthorized cheeseburger!

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I was looking through old Word documents tonight and found this letter I wrote almost five years ago. As soon as I began reading it, memories and emotions from that year began flooding into my mind. What a precious time in our life- the year we became parents.

——————–

To: Daddy                                 From: MG and Mommy
 

Father’s Day 2005

Well, the list is far too long – of things we adore and appreciate about you – so we made a list of the top ten that we want to thank you for…

10. Thank you for going to work every day to provide for us and for going to school these last two years – we know it takes a lot out of you – we are very proud of how well you have done and how well you balance school work with taking care of us.

9. Thank you for not getting frustrated if we are running late or the house is a mess or dinner is not on the table – you are always so kind and forgiving.

8. Thank you for keeping smiles on our faces and laughter in our voices – for being so silly and entertaining us all the time.

7. Thank you for holding mommy when she is sad and for holding MG when she is sad. We always feel much better when you are holding us.

6. Thank you for being so humble and so quick to apologize. You are such a good example of that.

5. Thank you for protecting mommy’s purity when you guys were dating (even though there were times when you didn’t really want to) and for helping pass that legacy on to MG.

4. Thank you for being so patient with our emotions (especially mommy’s).

3. Thank you for being so open and honest with us. We feel very secure knowing that we can trust you completely.

2. Thank you for the depth of relationship that each of us has and will continue to have with you – for not viewing us as a job or a responsibility that you come home to every night.

1. Thank you most of all for loving God and for striving every day to be more like His son – because of that you have shown us a love that is greater than any other. We love you so much!

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one of Mg's outfits

Meadow and I spent last Thursday night in “Fashion 101”.

Our teacher: My sister-in-law, Meaghan.

Our classroom: Meadow’s bedroom.

Our materials: The entire contents of Meadow’s dresser and closet and jewelry box. And a camera.

Our objective  (or more accurately, my objective): To create a photo album of outfits, put together by Meaghan, for Meadow to refer to each morning when she is getting herself ready for the day.

My motive: To help prevent my four-

another outfit

year old from looking like a mismatched, hippy, homeless kid. To assist my four-year old in wearing clothes that fit well, that match, that look presentable.

So how, you might ask, did this idea come about? The idea came about the week before, after a night when Meaghan spent an hour or so hanging out with Meadow in her room. I don’t know what all they did during that hour. What I do know is that Meadow wore a very cute outfit later that week and that when I commented on it, Meadow told me, excitedly, that Meaghan picked it out. Thus, an idea was born.

outfit #3

Question: How can I get my kid to dress well, every day, without a long, exasperating argument discussion, every morning, about what she should and should not wear?

Answer: Get Meaghan to pick it out!

Results: Meadow has, happily and excitedly, referred to her photos, almost every day since that night.

Thank you Meaghan for being a solution to our my problem! Thank you for spending two hours of your time playing dress-up with us! Thank you for using your time and your talents to bless us. We love you!

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my second born

By the time Granite was five days old, I knew my children were very, very different. This realization occured to me after a loooong, sleepless night spent with my second child. As the sun rose and I realized I had not slept at all I thought, “Oh man, what have I gotten myself into?” In fact, most of Granite’s first year, I am sad and slightly embarrassed to admit, was spent thinking that. As I dealt with his nursing problems, his eating problems, his digestive problems, his sleeping problems, his illnesses, his two hour screaming sessions, his defiance, his fussiness, his restlessness, his anger issues and our major communication problems, I could not help but think, “What have I gotten myself into!?” It was a rough, rough start to say the least.

Then spring rolled around (at this point Granite was somewhere around 12 months old). Things had gotten a little better, now that he was weaned and mobile and sleeping like a champ (twelve to fourteen hours every night, with a two to three hour nap every afternoon!). But things were not what I would describe as ‘good’. We still had huge communication problems; him trying to communicate and me not understanding and him getting furious that I didn’t know what he was wanting or saying. And me telling him what to do and him reacting in anger to any suggestions that did not one hundred percent agree with what he was already trying to do. And he could still be very fussy, restless and tempermental. So, our life had improved but there were still many, many moments of desperation, of unhappiness, of general overwhelmedness.

Until one afternoon when everything changed for me, and my life course, my perspective, my reality was changed forever.

We (Granite and I) were sitting in Ed Mikrut’s office. He is the “eastern/alternative/voodoo medicine man” that we have been seeing for well over a year now. (I’m not sure of his actual title, so forgive me, that may be a misrepresenation of him. Basically he encourages natural/alternative methods for pursuing wellness and dealing with physical and emotional illnesses and problems.)

Anyway, so we were sitting in Ed’s office again dealing with another sickness that Granite had picked up and come down with. Ed had finished testing Granite, given me what I needed to take care of Granite and I was about to gather our stuff to get ready to leave when Ed said, “Let me see him for a minute.” (note: Granite had been either fussing, crying, or screaming pretty much the entire session.) I handed the kid over, happy to not be holding a squirming, screaming child for a moment and watched as Granite slowly calmed down and got quiet in Ed’s lap. My jaw hit the floor (at least I think it did) and I stared in awe at my quieted child.

As this developed, I remember Ed said to me, “Something isn’t right here. Something is off with this little guy. I don’t think he’s just a fussy baby…I think there’s something going on inside him. Maybe if we figure out what it is then we can deal with it and make it better.”

After Ed made this statement he proceeded to ask me many, many questions; questions about my pregnancy, about Granite’s birth and about how I have dealt with and interacted with Granite, questions about Granite’s behavior at home, his interactions with other people and his reactions to different environments. And he listened. He listened as I answered his questions,  as I said things I’d never conciously thought about before, as I shared about all of the overwhelming emotions of the prior year. And he listened as I confessed that……I didn’t…really…like…my son.

And when I uttered these words, words I had never spoken out loud or even been willing to conciously admit, he waited. He waited as I cried. And cried. And cried. Cried because I was ashamed of my feelings towards my son and because I was sad that my son, who didn’t ask for any of this, had a mother who felt the way that I did.

And then he listened again as I, through my tears, realized and admitted that I wanted my second born to be like my first born- quiet, compliant, calm and easy going -and that when I had realized he was not, I had become so overwhelmed by, resentful towards and frightened about having to be his mother forever, I could barely function!

And then Ed spoke, or the Holy Spirit spoke through him, about taking it one day at a time, about embracing the challenge of being the mother of a spirited child, about me being the one to break the cycle of emotion between Granite and I, about Granite needing my acceptance and about what an incredible man Granite’s strength and spirit and passion, would one day make him. (and he said more but I cannot remember it all nor do it justice, though my memory is of him saying exactly what needed to be said, exactly what I needed to hear)

So I don’t know if it was the power of confessing these things that changed me, the words of wisdom that followed, or the combination of the two, but I left Ed’s office a different woman. And I swear, Granite left a different boy.

The moment I realized this difference was in the car on the way home. Granite was sitting in the seat behind me as I drove and I was lost in thought and still somewhat emotional. I pulled the mirror down to look at him, he was being quiet and I wanted to see what he was doing. And when I looked at my son through that mirror, I saw a different child. It was like I had on a new pair of glasses and, for the first time, was seeing things clearly. Instead of seeing a difficult, tempermental, anger filled wild child, I saw a precious boy who, while spirited and energetic, was just emotional because his mama did not accept him for who he was…and is. And my heart melted as I begged God (and Granite, though I’m not sure he really understood it) for forgiveness.

Our days have been different ever since. We still have our bad moments. And he will always have an energy and spirit that I don’t have or understand. But I have learned to appreciate him, enjoy him, even adore him. He brings so much life, so much hilarity, so much preciousness to our home and I thank God for the grace and wisdom that made it possible.

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