Sep 012009

Every morning in the kitchen, my kids and I boogie to country music. Craig eats his cereal, head cocked in confusion, and watches his suburban family sing into broomsticks about tractors, guns, honky tonks and whiskey. Our children believe that brooms are made to serve solely as special kitchen microphones.

I love country music. It makes life seem simple and sweet. Country transforms my mundane mommy life into an inspiring musical. Changing diapers, paying bills, sweeping the floor, watching the kids pummel each other…it’s all set to music. There are entire country songs about the heartbreak caused by a broken dishwasher. To this, I can relate. And with country, if you’re broke, dripping with babies, and clinging to Jesus and sobriety with white knuckles…. it’s cool! Romantic, actually. Patriotic, even! Country is a good niche for me.

But it also means that occasionally I have moments like these:

Yesterday I was folding laundry upstairs and heard Tish in the family room singing with a serious twang. I sneaked down the stairs and saw that her dollies were all lined up on the couch, watching her perform on the coffee table.

She closed her eyes, adjusted her cowgirl hat, and belted into her broom stick…


I stood frozen on the stairs, deciding whether to interrupt the concert or not. Do other three year olds sing about beer and crazy people? Is that okay? If not, how do I correct her? What do I say? Beer isn’t good? People aren’t crazy?

I decided that “Great God, Good Beer, People Crazy” was as good a theology as any I’d come up with…so I stepped down from the stairs and offered her a standing ovation. Tish turned towards me, tipped her cowgirl hat, and curtsied.

Sep 032009

When Chase was 3, he waddled into my bedroom and found me reading a book about how to get him to sleep without Benadryl. I was previously unaware that there was another method. He asked me what I was doing and I told him I was learning how to be a better mommy.Chase said “Oh, Good. Keep Weading,” and he waddled out. I figured he must have read my parenting book about positive reinforcement.

I still read parenting books sometimes. I find that it’s an excellent way to actually sit down and still appear diligent.

Last night I was shocked to read the following sentence in my new book: “As long as you ALWAYS DO YOUR BEST …you will inevitably be a successful mother.”

I will not be reading any more of this book.

What kind of angry person would give this advice? We should ALWAYS do our best? ALWAYS, as in from the moment our kids start crowing at 5:30 am until they pass out on the floor like drunken soldiers two hours past their bedtimes? Is there a keg of Red Bull offered with this advice?

This scary book has inspired me to share the first and likely only parenting advice I’ll offer on this blog. (Full Disclosure: If this is your first Momastery visit, please read “Mouth to Ear Rescue” and “Plan B.” before even considering accepting my parenting advice.)

Please, ladies, let us NOT ALWAYS DO OUR BEST. Can you imagine how neurotic everyone in our homes would be if we followed this advice? Can you even fathom how much coffee and therapy we would need? NO,THANK YOU. Instead ladies, let us choose a specific time each day when we plan to do our best.I don’t know…say 6:45-7:10 each evening. Around 6:30, let us hide in the bathroom, take deep breaths, pound some caffeine, and get our game faces on. Then from 6:45 to 7:10, let us do our best. Let us gaze adoringly and continuously at our children, listen to what they say and actually respond, say sweetheart a lot, play a board game, do a craft, ask what’s wrong when they cry and wait for an answer, whatever it is that you think constitutesdoing your mommy best.

Actually, that is stressing me out. Maybe we should start smaller. How about 6:45- 7:00? That feels doable.

But for the rest of the day, in the name of all that’s holy, let’s just relax a bit and let everybody be themselves.

“ALWAYS DO YOUR BEST.”AS IF. That ranks up there with “hang in there, it gets easier” as the silliest advice I’ve ever heard.

Um, how about 6:45-6:50 instead? Nobody likes a martyr, ladies.

Sep 142009

Chase’s first real pet, Jacob, died yesterday. That’s Jacob swimming beneath a letter he sent last year when Chase went fishing at his grandpa’s house. We’ve had several of these “fighting” fish over the years. None lived long and we’d replace each without a word of explanation or a tear from the kids. But Jacob was special. He swam around in Chase’s room for two years and survived a million sticky fingers and more than a few missed meals. Jacob kept an eye on things for us. We thought him very wise and responsible. I once admitted to the kids that I loved daddy more than Jacob, and they were so hysterically horrified that I was forced to recant and promise that I did, in fact, love Daddy and Jacob exactly the same.Jacob was one of us.

We decided to tell the kids about Jacob’s death right away so that there were no accidental surprises. All three were playing together in the family room, so Craig and I sat down near them and I said, “We have some very sad news, guys.” Their bodies froze and their little heads swiveled toward me. I said solemnly and quietly… “Jacob died this morning.” I had resolved not to try to soften the blow by explaining it away prettily.

Tish immediately started to sob. I picked her up off the floor and buried my face in her hair as she curled into a teeny ball of self preservation, like a roly-poly. Chase quickly covered his mouth with his hand, but not before I noticed the hint of a grin that curled his lips. This nervous grin is his first line of defense. He asked if he could see Jacob. I moved Tish to Craig’s lap while Amanda, looking concerned, waddled over to Tish and patted her curls lovingly, and then whacked her hard on the forehead and grinned. Tish’s whimper turned into a wail. Craig and I shot each other good luck glances and I followed Chase up the stairs to view the body.

Chase walked into his room and marched like a soldier directly to the tank. When he saw Jacob’s lifeless body, he noticed that his friend’s vibrant red color had faded to gray. He asked why, but he didn’t wait for an answer. He just covered his eyes with his little first grade hands so that finally the tears could arrive. They streamed down his cheeks as his shoulders fell and shook, and he crumbled into me.

I wanted so badly to tell Chase that it was okay,that we would replace Jacob with a new fish, a bigger fish, a whole school of fish…but I didn’t. This was his first personal experience with death, and I wouldn’t falsely suggest to him that death can be cheated through replacement. I wouldn’t teach him that pain should be avoided, dodged, or danced around. He needed to learn that death is worthy of grief because it’s final, for now. So we just sat on his bottom bunk and cried and held each other tight.

After awhile, Tish walked into Chase’s room, her eyes still red and her lips still quivering, and she climbed onto the bunk and wedged herself between Chase and me. Craig and Amanda followed her in and lied down on the floor together. Tish said softly, “I want Jacob to come back to life.” Chase lifted his head and said, “Well, not here, but in heaven. So it’s not all sad, Tish.” He stopped crying.

Sometimes the only way to transcend grief is to help someone littler transcend hers.

I stepped gratefully through the door of hope that Chase had opened for us. I had been waiting for his permission. Because the one closest to the departed has to be the first to step from despair to hope. Nobody else is allowed to jump ahead and shove open the door. That’s the rule. I said, “Hey, guys, do you think in heaven, Jacob won’t be a fighting fish anymore? Maybe in heaven he’ll be a peaceful fish and finally get to swim around with his buddies and play.”

Chase’s eyes still glistened while a tiny smile emerged like a hesitant rainbow. This might be his best look. And it is my favorite moment in life. When you realize… Wow. This is bad. Really, really bad. But we’re still here. We’re gonna make it through. Not over or under or around, but through.And look, we’re even going to smile again.

Tish’s tears stopped, but her head remained resolutely in my lap. The five of us sat quietly for a little while, petting each other. Then we discussed offering Jacob a proper send off in the backyard the following morning. We’d color some pictures for him and read a prayer and a poem or two. And then Chase ended our wake by dismissing himself to hold his guinea pig, Romeo. It was his wake to end.

That’s all I know to do when death calls, I guess. Stop and answer it. Respect it, feel it, and then hold tight the ones who are left.

How do you help your children deal with loss?

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