Tag Archives: Blogging

Those Things You Learn the Hard Way When You Have Your First Child

This isn’t my typical blog post, but this past year so many things have been swirling around in my mind that I feel the need to write them out (and yes it has taken me well over a year to do so). Maybe what I’ve learned the hard way will help someone else; and please I would love to hear from other parents or care givers what shocked you, surprised you or melted your heart in a way you never thought possible. So here goes… Those things I learned the hard way.

Did you know that after you have a baby your hair can literally falls out in clumps for weeks? That is a fun one. Thankfully, it is temporary as your hormones attempt to balance out. Something called BPA (which you may have never even heard of before) suddenly seems important, but you are not even sure why. Did you know that it is actually possible to be allergic to your own child? I didn’t (google Pups rash—so not cool). Thankfully, this too is temporary and due (yet again) to an overload of hormones.

When you have a baby, you quickly discover that some people have an irresistible urge to give you advice on EVERYTHING from how your baby should be dressed, to when to feed solid food, how often your baby needs to bathe, when you should sleep, how often to cut finger nails and on and on and on. Frankly, it’s exhausting. And speaking of exhausting, I think the thing that has been the hardest for me as a new parent was the discovery that some babies (no matter what you do) just don’t sleep well at night. Welcome to motherhood. As my dad told a young, overwhelmed mom at church; “if it was easy, guys would do it.”

I vividly remember one night during that first month getting up—for was it the fifth or six time—(I’d lost count) and thinking, “It’s a wonder any of us survived to adulthood. Needless to say, I have a new appreciation for my mom (and she had twins! God bless her).

I don’t remember how old I was when I first started to babysit, maybe twelve. My first regular babysitting job was watching a three month old when I was 15. For five months, I worked as a nanny (best job ever). Then, I had the immense privilege of being an aunty/parent for ten months to 19 of the most amazing children in Kenya. So, when it came to having my own little guy, I guess I expected things to be—well—a little bit easier. I had experience, right?

Needless to say, I got the biggest wake up call of my life. It is scary, to be honest. You are responsible. A little life is in your hands and the pressure of that can be daunting. I learned this the hard way during those first few hours when I went to feed Trevor for the first time and, instead of a sweet bonding moment, he was whisked off to be put on oxygen (read The Story I Couldn’t Write part one and two for more on that experience). The fear is real, but you cannot give into the fear because that only brings unneeded stress. I’m learning that you have to choose to focus on doing the best job that you can over worry knowing you are an imperfect parent living in an imperfect world where disease and tragedy are a very real reality. Thankfully, as tiny and vulnerable as babies are, it amazes me how tough they can be as well—a calming grace for my often over-worried soul.

As a nanny, you join a family who has a specific way of taking care of their children. You’re responsible for looking after the kids during a specific amount of time. There might be some light housework included in your duties, but mainly your focus is 100 percent on the kids. As a parent, you are responsible for the kids, grocery shopping, teaching proper ways to behavior in society, education, health, financial needs and the list goes on. Instead of following someone else’s methods and preferences, suddenly you have to make the decision on everything from car seats, vaccines, and tummy sleeping to how best to discipline and whether or not to co-sleep, sleep train, or do a mix of everything. It is on you and the choices are daunting. Opinions on both sides of every argument seem so strong. For example, take the vaccine debate. Mom A will say, “if you have your children vaccinated and something goes wrong they could die.” Mom B will point out, “if you don’t vaccinate your children and they get sick they could die.” Then there is tummy sleeping. Mom A, “back is best due to the risk of SIDS.” Mom B, “My friend’s baby died in her sleep from choking while sleeping on her back.” What is a mom to do?

I have learned the hard way that you have to do your own research and make the decision that works best for you and your child. There is no one perfect or even right way to raise your little guy or gal. There is a reason there is no baby manual. Each child, family, and situation is different. So, instead of stressing about decisions, focus on learning your baby and what works best in your particular situation. I’ve learned the hard way that no matter what route you choose, someone will think you are making the wrong decision. That is all right. At the end of the day, you are responsible for your child. So when it comes to all the opinions, options, and advice learn to sort through it. Pick out the helpful stuff, don’t waste your breath with debates, and just change the subject if someone gets hostile. You are not going to change their mind, so just move on to lighter topics.

This last year I’ve also learned the hard way that the name of the game is change. Just as you get a rhythm or a schedule it changes. I remember one morning cooking breakfast while my son sat on the floor happily playing with a toy. I thought to myself, “ this is a nice stage.” He had his balance to the point where he could sit by himself and not fall over. I could actually focus on what I was doing. It was heavenly. Well, that didn’t last long. Next thing I knew he was crawling, so much for concentration. Change can also be a good thing though. It does get easier and harder, easier and harder as your little one hits growth spurts, developmental milestones, and pops out those little pearly whites. Each little stage has its joys and challenges. So on the hard days remember, it will change sometimes the best medicine is deciding to have a positive attitude.

Another thing you learn quickly as a new parent is that naptime is never long enough. Part of this might be more of a personality thing, but the minute those tiny eyes close; I start thinking of all the things I want to do: the dishes, laundry, blog, finally get a shower, sit down in peace and read my Bible. The floors need to be mopped. There are emails to answer. The bathroom could really use a good cleaning. Of course, it is unrealistic to do all of this. When my little guy wakes up and I have not even gotten through an 1/8th of the things I wanted to do, I end up feeling so frustrated. This, of course, does not help anyone. I’ve learned the hard way that I have to lower my expectations (keep that naptime to do list to one or two items), prioritize, and if I really want to get something done either stay up late or get up early.

That being said, another hard lesson I have had to learn is—ask for help. This one is a constant struggle for me. I want to do it all, handle it well, and be there whenever my son needs me. As a result, I often find myself overwhelmed, overtired, and easily frustrated. Then I get extra frustrated at myself for being frustrated. I should be able to handle this right? Well, I can’t and that is OK because my son needs more then just me. Not having immediate family close by has been a real challenge this past year. Part of the year we do live near my husband’s family and that makes a huge difference, but there are a lot of times that it is just us and our absolutely adorable bundle of joy is a ball full of ENERGY. I have learned the hard way that it makes a huge difference to ask a responsible teenager to come with to the coffee shop so that you can actually get some Internet work done (and not just be frustrated by the entire experience). Sometimes it takes swallowing your pride and admitting that, no, you can’t handle it. Other times it takes knowing your limits and admitting that you need some peace and quiet and time to recharge yourself in order to be a better parent.

And finally, remember to have fun. It is easy to get so caught up in the caretaking side of being a mom that you forget to just enjoy and play with your child. I was reminded of this on my birthday. My husband very thoughtfully booked a couple of nights for us at a guesthouse. There weren’t any distracting dishes staring at me, so at one point Trevor and I just played with a little tennis ball that I had brought along to keep him amused. I remember sitting there on the floor listening to my little guy laugh and thinking I need to do this more often. In the midst of the challenges and the huge learning curve there are so many joyful moments. Embrace that.

What did you learned the hard way as a new parent? Were there things that really surprised you? What advice would you give new parents expecting their own little bundle of joy?

Trevor and his daddy checking out how much his tree has grown over the past year.

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That Not so Innocent Green Eyed Monster

Two blog posts caught my attention this past week, and I can’t seem to get them out of my head. The first post was from a mom with a special needs child writing about how she is unable to like pictures posted on facebook of her friend’s children doing things that her own child will never be able to do. It was a touching, honest piece about the struggles of raising a child with unique challenges. But, while I felt for the author, her conclusions did not sit well with me.

The second piece was an equally honest post also by a mother. This mom wrote about her struggle with feelings of heartbrokenness when she saw her friends’ beautifully decorated nurseries while she raised her two kids in a cramped trailer. Due to a tough financial time, she and her husband were unable to give their kids the space and material comforts that they longed to be able to provide which left this young mom feeling inadequate and unable to rejoice with her friends who were blessed with more spacious accommodations.

I feel for these two ladies. Clearly, they love their kidos and long for them to have as “normal” lives as possible. What I cannot agree with is their conclusions that sometimes your own life is too painful to rejoice in other people’s happiness and that these feelings are some how ok. I just can’t agree. It’s good to be honest about struggles, pain and disappointments in life, but allowing a mindset of, “I can only be happy for you when things are going well for me,” is pure poison. Don’t swallow it.

Last month marks 20 years since my beautiful twin sister Allison passed away. The hurt is still so real that I often find it hard to even talk about her without tearing up. It will probably always be this way, but interestingly enough, I’ve often found healing through allowing myself to be friends with other twins. Yes, there are moments that my heart simply aches when I see twins interacting because I miss that special closeness in my own life, but I’m happy for them. My story also adds a perspective to the lives of twins that I’m privileged to meet because in a way it serves as a reminder for them to be extra thankful for their twin which some have taken for granted.

We are all asked to walk different walks and of course most people would not choose the hard path if given a choice. So many couples passionately declare the vows, “for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health,” but do we really mean it? When financial struggles actually hit or one partner’s health mars the dream of a perfect happy-ever-after, too many times divorce follows. The vows were empty syllables. Someone leaves, seeking their happiness elsewhere, claiming that this wasn’t the life they signed up for even though they had previously vowed to stick it out.

Hard times are a reality. It’s unrealistic to expect a fairytale life in a world that is broken by sin. This is why we need people to walk through life with us and not alienate ourselves when things didn’t turn out as expected. The wisest king in history wrote there is, “a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Be there for the tears as well as the celebrations even when it’s not your celebration. We need to stop entertaining the lie that we deserve certain things in life like healthy kids, a picture perfect house, and the perfect marriage.

Each day is a gift. Each life is different from the next, so live yours not someone else’s. Sometimes the best way to work through pain is to take the focus off yourself and be there for someone else. Cry with them in their pain but also be big enough to rejoice with them when something good is happening in their life even if that same thing isn’t happening in yours. Comparison often leads to jealousy and jealousy can lead to hatred of other people’s lives or even your own life. That tenth commandment about not coveting is there for a reason. God doesn’t want us looking around at other people’s things whether that be a well developing child or a perfectly decorated nursery and wish that it was ours. He gives daily grace to handle what life brings and that should be the focus, not alienating people from your life because they have what you wish you could.

Not to say that life is easy or that pain does not cut deeply. It does, so deeply sometimes. But, it’s not healthy to stay too long in that place of pain. Of course, it’s harder for someone who is struggling with infertility to rejoice with a friend who announces her third pregnancy, but what love when the person is able to do so. There aren’t easy answers at times. Of course we all wish for healthy children and financially secure lives, but Jesus said in John 16:33, “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have over come the world.” The first part of the verse says, “I have told you these things so that you may have peace.” Maybe those trouble will come now, or maybe they will come later down the road. The question is how will you handle it—with grace and peace or with bitterness? What will you learn from the painful times? Will your response inspire others up or push them way? The enemy wants us to think that we are in this alone. No one else can possible understand our pain, but that’s not true. When one part of the body of Christ is in pain the whole body feels it even down to the tiniest toe. That’s why we need each other. That’s why it’s important to weep together and also to laugh together.

Each situation is unique. Each special needs child has something to teach the world that only he or she can teach. Every financial struggle is a building block for later in life. Honestly, your children will remember your love and time spent together more then they will a cutely painted nursery decked out in pinterest’s latest.

Be YOU and let your friends be them. Your story, especially those painful parts, is unique. Live your life not someone else’s. Laugh through the fun parts and cry through the hard times. Let people cry with you and be open to rejoicing with them as well. It’s a way to heal your own heart. Don’t let the green eyed monster of jealousy take your eyes off the good things that your life has to offer which includes having the grace to rejoice with those around you.

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Those Simple Breaths

Thanks to Treena and Josh Ditto of Angelic Images for the lovely engagement photo

Thanks to Treena and Josh Ditto of Angelic Images for the lovely engagement photo

It’s been months since I’ve blogged. A first for SimplyContemplating, I know, but thanks everyone for hanging in with me while I road out the joyously painful road of wedding planning, Pintrest projects, and those inevitable last minute panics.

It was worth every second though. Thanks to so many helping hands (special thanks to mom, my incredible bridesmaids and attendants, out of town family and friends, dad, siblings, church family the list goes on) the wedding came together almost magically, and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. Really, having so many close friends and family there was an incredible gift and my husband and I both felt so blessed.

It’s a bit hard entering the blogging world again after taking a lengthy break. I want to come back with some kind of profound truth or fresh insight to make up for the silence, but all I have are little things, memories, moments, the thoughts of a content traveler picking out a new road.

It has been a couple months of celebration and new beginnings—a new last name, packing and unpacking, road trips, plane tickets, paperwork, and lots of time waiting. But, in the midst of all the big things I have to say some of the little moments have been my favorite. Eating cashews and drinking coke as my husband and I took yet another road trip. Getting lost and learning how to communicate under the stress of traffic and frustration (that’s still a work in progress for me). Watching just about every episode of Monk together and the sadness of reaching the end. Washing dishes, washing the car, and playing cards with my grandparents—all little breaths of life. Pieces of us coming together to make the mundane special. Learning to stop and enjoy the little things because all those little things make life what it is.

I’ve missed blogging. Having people to connect with over the joy of words and a shared life is something that will always be a part of me. Thanks as always for reading and for sharing your moments as well. What have been some of your favorite little moments this year? Don’t forget to stop during the day and simply take a breath. Freeze the scene around you, and soak for a second or two in that moment.

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What do you do Anyway?

“So, what do you do?’ she asked as we sat sipping chai and killing time until lunch was ready.  It was the second or third time that week that I’d gotten this question from visitors stopping by the children’s home where I volunteer.

“What do I do?” I thought. Here I was talking to the nursing director of the entire Kijabe Hospital. To someone as busy as her, I’m sure my life looked fairly mundane. Well, today I was spending the morning entertaining guests that I had no idea were coming until I saw a car drive up the drive way. “Every day is different,” I answered. How do you explain being on call 24/7, starting your day at 5:30am but then having the kids gone for the majority of the day? Some days it does feel like I sit around all day, go for walks, and just exist until the kids get home. Other days I’m so busy that I barely have time to breathe and fall into bed at 8:30pm only to have my alarm jolt me awake telling me that it’s time to do it all over again.

As an “auntie” to 17 children, ranging from the ages of 6 to 17, I do everything from braid hair to clean up throw up. I cook a little, clean a little, help tutor the kids, try to teach them what it means to take care of their things (a never ending job). I pick puzzle pieces up off the floor and beat the living room rug after a weekend leaves it filled with enough dust and dirt to fill a sandbox.

What do I do? On Mondays usually do laundry which involves a couple of buckets, some Omo, and a whole lot of clothes pins. But, I don’t have to do the kid’s laundry. Mama Jane (my hero) does that. That woman is amazing. She can get the entire house mopped, the kids laundry (a literal mountain) washed, and cook a mean pot of rice (another mountain), all before lunch.

Tuesdays are town days. Catch up on emails and usually blog while we have fast Internet, stock up on fruit from the fruit market, and get some somosas (sometimes the only meat I get all week). Wednesdays are worship Wednesdays. We’ve been teaching the kids new songs, and I absolutely LOVE hearing them sing their hearts out when we worship. Thursdays are mandazi Thursdays. We head into our little town of Maraigushu to go to the local eating spot for some chai and mandazi (a doughnut type food just not as sugary). As we walk to town we inevitable end up walking with the local neighborhood kids on their way to nursery school. They like to grab our hands and by the time we reach the school we’ve usually collected a nice little string of kids. Friday is movie night. One of the kid’s favorite days of the week. We pop in a movie, sometimes Richelle makes popcorn, and we enjoy some family time.

The weekends are always a blur. Our cook doesn’t work on the weekends, so my Saturdays start at 6am. I get up, heat up water for the man who milks our cow, and then I typically start making pancakes. As the kids wake up, the little kids trickle in the kitchen to “help” me. I usually start burning the pancakes when I have 6 kids hanging on me, but most days the majority of pancakes turnout alright. The kids usually work in the shamba (garden) for awhile in the mornings. I typically braid one or more of the little girl’s hair (always a long project). Sundays involve church, sometimes walks, and whatever else happens to happen.

Then it’s Monday again- beautiful Monday. The kids head off to school. I typically clean up the kitchen and living room area, and it stays clean for the rest of the day! So that’s what I do. That and clean up bloody noses, put on a lot of band aids, give lots of hugs, and just live the day being flexible and taking care of whatever comes my way.

“It’s an emotional job,” Ruthann reflected the other day. “Not a job that can be easily measured.” Some days I do feel like I spend the majority of the day chilling, reading, doing whatever, but then the kids come home and I think, “What don’t I do!”

What do I do? Some days I’m still not sure, but I love it being here for the kids, watching them grow, and doing whatever needs to be done in a day.

Walking to town for mandazi Thursday picking up a string of kids as we go.

Walking to town for mandazi Thursday picking up a string of kids as we go.

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I Just Want to Feel This Moment

I turned the corner to fields of green tucked around the curves of one of my favorite back roads. I wanted to stop and take a picture but instead decided to keep driving with the radio turned up just enjoying the moment.

Heading back to the city it felt good to soak in the open spaces and the freeing feeling of being the only person on the road. “This is it,” I thought, the perfect combination of living in the city but not living too far away from family and the beauty of peaceful scenery. In moments like that I sometimes think back to a college chapel service. The speaker spoke from Psalms 73 emphasizing the phrase “The nearness of God is my good.”

“As you go through life take time to lean your head against the glass -whether that be the glass of an airplane window or a window in your home- and take a minute to remember the phrase ‘the nearness of God is my good.'” His words stuck with me. I guess for the idea that no matter what is swirling around you in life whether it be success or tragedy remain near to God.

It was easy to feel near to the presence of God on that drive last week. Today I was desperate for His nearness for an entirely different reason after receiving a call saying that my aunt Martha who lives in Kenya is deathly sick. To be honest, I feel numb. It doesn’t make sense. It came on so fast. The doctors are saying it is septicemia and there is not much they can do for her. She is on a respirator thousands of miles away. There is nothing I can do but pray. I feel helpless. I feel shocked, but I also feel hope knowing that I pray to a powerful God who is capable anything. It’s harder to trust in the difficult times. It’s so easy to get angry and ask why because honestly it really just doesn’t make sense, but even in these moments (especially in these moments) I still cling to the truth- the nearness of God is my good. I will make the Lord my God my refuge.

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My Cup Runs Over

It’s the little things that really seem to make life matter. A light dusting of snow falling the day before my birthday, finding a hidden koala bear while geocaching with friends, making it safely through St Louis traffic. That’s when I feel closest to God. I’m not going to lie. I doubt more than I should. I often assume the worst is bound to happen and am usually shocked when everything works out just fine. I’m the queen of wondering what if I get lost, what if I got the time wrong, what if I wrote down the wrong number? Wasted energy on phantom troubles, and yet God still sees me through.

Maybe it’s silly but being a January baby I’ve always felt that having snow on my birthday is like getting a birthday present from God. This year I’d already rationalized that it was too warm for snow talking myself out of getting my hopes up… and then it snowed. A light, soft snow just enough to cover the ground and then it melted away.

I hadn’t expected much for my birthday this year. I was in the processes of packing for a move and just didn’t have the energy or inspiration to plan anything, but God took care of that too. To start out the week my friend Katie threw me a party complete with roses, cupcakes, and people I love. On Monday, my brothers took me to a movie and while the movie I was dying to see ending up being a huge disappointment, it felt good knowing that my brothers loved me enough to sit through a movie they both hated. We laughed about it as soon as the credits started to roll.

Tuesday included a goodbye/birthday celebration with two amazing friends, and as we ate at Chick-fil-a, took pictures at my friend’s photography studio, and went goecaching we asked each other why we waited until I was leaving to all hangout together. The night ended perfectly when we stopped at Starbucks and the barista suggest Chai as the drink of choice for such a chilly night. My favorite drink, of course, but my friends tried it as well which made my heart happy.

On Wednesday (my actual birthday) I celebrated with my family with a French silk pie and my favorite dish beef subgum. Saturday ended out the week. Packing was stressful, but I finally fit my life into the back of my Nissan Stanza Wagon and headed to St Louis where my friends took me out to Friday’s for a birthday supper. I felt so full, so blessed, so loved. I can’t get over how many incredible people I have in my life which, after surviving a very hard year, feels so good.

Today was another day of celebration. After being in St Louis for less than two weeks God provided an amazing job for me as a nanny, and my plans to go to Kenya at the end of May have been finalized! (More on that to come) With everything falling into place I almost feel like I’m walking in a dream. God has been so good to me providing just when I was tempted to give up and surrounding me with some of the most amazing people. To celebrate my friend Tara and her husband Zach and I headed to the St Louis loop to enjoy dinner at Cheese-ology and then had rootbeer floats at Fitz’s.

As Psalms 73:28 says, “The nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” As summed up by the picture below. My cup truly runs over.

My cup runs over- rootbeer floats at Fitz's

My cup runs over- rootbeer floats at Fitz’s

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When Your Forgettery Works Better Than Your Memory

I’m not sure why I packed for a month, but I did. I felt like a bag lady with my oversized duffle, bulging backpack, and large purse. But, with a limited time to pack and no idea what weather in Florida would be like over the week of Christmas, I just threw in everything. It has literally been years since my whole family has taken a road trip together. So long that we no longer have a car which fits everyone, but thanks to the use of our friends’ van we were soon on our way from Southern Illinois to Florida with a two night stop in Tennessee for a wedding.

The call came in somewhere between Tennessee and Florida. There had been a car accident. It’s the kind of call no one wants to get. Details were sketchy. Grandma had been airlifted to a hospital in Ocala. Grandpa was taken by ambulance to a near by hospital. Things seemed stable but not good.

Apart from some broken ribs and back pain my grandpa was doing well physically, but he suffers from Alzheimer’s and is unable to live on his own. He came home in time for Christmas, and we were all there. My aunt cooked Christmas dinner at her house and brought it over. All the good stuff—ham, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, and mashed potatoes.

Part of us went to visit Grandma. Her leg was shattered to the point of needing surgery, and the pain medicine she is on is making her delusional. The hospital staff say this is common in someone her age, but it is hard to see someone you love not recognize you and insist that they are cooking a meal in their own home while they are laying flat on their back in a hospital bed. Snippets of the conversation made sense, but most was gibberish as Grandma reached up to invisible shelves attempting to put away invisible dishes.

The last couple of days have been mushed together. My family had to head back to Illinois. My sister is leaving to teach for a semester in Kenya and has less than a week to pack and get on the plane. Everyone else has jobs and previous commitments to return to. Thankfully, I have a flexible job at the moment and am able to stay a little bit longer while things get settled.

My aunt and uncle and Florida cousins have been amazing finding a beautiful assisted living facility for my grandpa to move in to and really making it feel like home. Grandpa resisted at first insisting that he was fine staying on his own, but when you can’t remember how to make a telephone call it is not good to stay by yourself. My mom and aunts had the hard job of making decisions and getting all of the details to fit in place. My job has been much easier listening to my grandpa tell stories and helping out with little things. Even though I’ve heard the same set of stories over and over during the last couple of days it has been good at times, and I even heard a couple of new ones. But, it’s hard explaining to my grandpa who I am over and over, and it’s not easy listening to him talk about how he thinks he should still be able to drive even though the state of Florida has revoked his license.

“It’s not easy getting old,” he says, “my forgettery works better than my memory.” I have to agree with him. Loosing your independence must be a very difficult thing. But it was good beyond words to see him today start to settle into his new home. What could have been a very difficult thing turned into a beautiful transition as he slowly went from hostile to happy. He liked the food. He liked the staff, and by the end of the day he had convinced himself that he had stayed in this facility once before after a surgery. I wasn’t going to argue with him. It’s not the home he built and has lived for many, many years, but it can become home and at least he is finally willing to give it a try.

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