rewriting mom guilt bingo.

A month or two ago, this image floated around the portals of Facebook and Pinterest:

Photo cred: archive.netblitz.com
Photo cred: archive.netblitz.com

And mom-friend after mom-friend chuckled over her marked-up Bingo squares. A few of us screamed BLACK OUT!  because indeed, every square on the Mom Guilt Bingo sheet was X-ed out.

Maybe, hopefully, every single one of us who played the game in our mind then chuckled because we’d done it again: We’d won. We’d played the game right. We’d come out on top.

If you’re anything like me, I laughed and I giggled because sometimes all of the above not only feels but is altogether too true. But then things started to turn ugly: Laughter led to questioning my own parenting, and then I began to actually feel guilty about what I do and don’t do.  I began to compare myself with the non-existent but altogether angelic Do Everything and Be Everything mamas who didn’t have to mark a single square on their bingo sheet. And by the end of it, evil “not good enough” voices and internal threats of failure were worming their way into my mind.

Take, for example, the evidence:

1. Try as I might, I still haven’t lost the baby weight. 2. I look forward to the one hour of screen time we allow Cancan every afternoon. 3. I’m no less than eight years behind on scrapbooking, which means that I haven’t even met the HBH (Hot Black Husband) yet, nor have thoughts of Little Caramel and Little Cappuccino entered my mind yet. [And y’all: scrapbooking in general? Two thousand and late.] 4. I yell GENTLE!!! to my children when my voice and my insides and my heart feel far from it. 5. Finally, plain ol’ cheese pizza, straight from freezer to oven, is a regular part of our weekly dinner ritual, as it should be for two little boys who can’t get enough of it.

But evidence of these findings does not make me a bad mother, nor does blacking out your entire board make you a bad mama.

Because friends, we’re human. 

I’m human and you’re human and every mama who’s ever played her own game of Mom Guilt Bingo and found herself sometimes feeling like she’s failing is human as well. And the last thing we need as we try our hardest to be the Best Damn Mamas we can be is another dose of guilt-laden You’re Not Good Enough’s down our throats. So, I say we rename the Bingo sheet.

Consider the following options…

*When Was the Last Time You Tried Keeping a One Year Old Human Alive? BINGO

*Survivor: It Ain’t Just a Reality TV Show, Y’all BINGO

*I Watched the Boob Tube Every Day as a Child and Look at Me Now BINGO

But let’s also think about these titles…

*Surviving on Grace & Coffee & Laughter BINGO

*I’m the Perfect Mom to and for My Kids BINGO

*Doing the Best I Can and So Are You BINGO

So, as for me and mine, we’re keeping the bingo sheet, but we’re rewriting the title. And I encourage you to rewrite your title, too. Do what you have to do in order to make this thing called motherhood work for you – plop your child in front of the television for an hour, throw a frozen pizza in the oven, read a book for an extra-long time while you’re sitting on the loo – and be refreshed, just for a moment. And then enter back into the chaos and the fun and the inevitable memory-making, and give yourself a pat on the back, because Woman? You’re incredible.

You are the best and the most beautiful and the most breathtaking mama to have ever walked this earth …at least to your little ones, at least to the minions who are in your care. 

So relax.

Take a breather.

And know that you are right where you’re supposed to be, doing just what you’re supposed to be doing. And you are loved.

xo, c.

So, Mom Guilt Bingo: Am I making too much of it? Perhaps. But what would you rename it? Otherwise, how do you survive motherhood or parenthood in general? 

once upon a camping.

Once upon a time, there lived a family. And this foursome lived in a house with four walls, and they slept in beds with cushions and blankets and adequate back support. They ate food cooked on the stove or sometimes zapped in the microwave, and they lived with the support of this marvelous invention called electricity. 

Photo cred: grovelandsppc.org
Photo cred: grovelandsppc.org

But then the mama got it in her head that it’d be a really, really good idea to head to the middle of the forest for the weekend. They’d sleep in sleeping bags! On the ground! In tents! They’d cook their meals with the help of a miniature propane tank and they’d roast marshmallows as if their lives depended on it. They’d get dirty – really, really dirty – and they’d not take showers or baths for two days, because why should they?

They’d be camping, after all.

But the best part about the story is that they’d get by with a little help from their friends. 

They’d band together with five other families, and if the English Teacher Formerly Known as the Writer of this Blog did the math correctly, she’d count 26 humans altogether: 12 grown-ups and 14 children. They’d divide and conquer when it came to meals and when it came to booze, when it came to firewood and when it came to rallying the troops.

Photo cred: fhssoftball.com
Photo cred: fhssoftball.com

When the raccoons would decide at six in the morning, Day Two, to cunningly use their little black and white fingers to pry open the aforementioned foursome’s crate of dry goods, the rest of the troops would rally. The cowboy of the group, John Wayne, would try his hardest to scare off the unwanted varmints, while the remaining families would offer hot chocolate and crackers and gummy bears in holy sacrifice: We’re in this together, they’d say. What’s mine is yours – here, have another chocolate-covered pretzel. 

They’d hike together, and two such characters who shall not be named (but who sometimes find residence on this blog as the HBH/Hot Black Husband and Cancan) would get lost on the trails for three hours. But funny thing is, they’d return to their people more refreshed than ever before, and they’d both remember that excursion as the highlight of their weekend.

And oh, how these friends would laugh.

They’d play Farkle on the picnic tables, and Bocce Ball on the lawn, and they’d brave the grotesquely stinky outhouse together, the one they swore housed a brown recluse, cunningly crafted webbed home mere inches from unsuspecting ass.

Photo cred: offthegridnews.com
Photo cred: offthegridnews.com

They’d watch their babies play together and fight together and say their I’m sorry’s before beginning the brave cycle all over again. They’d watch the one year olds – for there were three of them on this trip – discover the pure joy of dirt, rolling in it and pouring it over their heads and tasting it, just in case, just because …it’s dirt.

Then, when one of these one year olds would decide that it’d be a Super Duper Good Idea and Loads and Loads of Fun to wake up at four in the morning, the mama would get it in her head that she’d rock her squirming child to sleep. But why sleep when there are tents to party like a rockstar in, and air mattresses to bounce on, and big brothers to climb over in the wee hours of the morning? Why sleep when your parents are RIGHT THERE WITH YOU, and did anyone ever notice how totally fun they are? And most of all, why sleep when everyone else in their right Pacific Standard Time mind is sleeping?

Photo cred: pinterest.com
Photo cred: pinterest.com

So then the mama – the mysterious, charming, gorgeous character whose identity we all must be dying to know – would decide to bravely take her baby back to the child’s tent, the tent he slept so soundly in the night before, the tent that led her to believe that she birthed naturally camp-worthy children. But then the cycle would inevitably repeat itself: bounce on Thermarest, tackle Mama, raise fingers in the air and wave ’em around like you just don’t care.

Until you do care.

And then said angelic, I-just-wanna-hang-out-with-my-bodacious-mama baby would decide that he actually is tired, and that being awake in the four o’clock hour is actually not so fun.

So he would then begin to scream.

At the top of his lungs.

In the middle of the Great Outdoors, lest you forget where this adventuresome story is taking place.

The dada, who’s only four feet away and hasn’t fallen back asleep (mostly because his wife won’t let him – don’t you dare!) would put on his super cape. While the mama would try hushing and shushing and rocking and cooing, techniques that didn’t work on the child when he was two months old, let alone now, the father would put on his shoes and his sweatshirt and his hat, and grab the keys to the car.

Then the baby and the Baby Daddy would fall happily ever after asleep – at tilted seventy degree angle – until the blessed eight o’clock hour. And the mama would get the air mattress and the big ol’ double sleeping bag all to herself, amen. 

As luck would have it, when all the families arise in the morning, and seek to discover the culprit to those early morning screams, there’s actually a whole lot of grace.

Because they’re your people, and you’re their people. 

They love you, even if your child wakes up the entire campground, and they’re for you, even when the raccoons plunder all those snacks you bought at Target. When it’s time to leave for the weekend, you give one another smelly, stinky, I-haven’t-showered-for-two-days hugs, and you say, I really can’t wait to do this again. 

Photo cred: loanfinder.uk
Photo cred: loanfinder.uk

And you mean it.

You really, really mean it.

Because you didn’t have to put an end to your conversations, but you got to enter into time together, time unrestricted, time met in hallowed listening and extended story time, too. 

And isn’t that what camping’s all about?

We LOVED camping this weekend, truly. So, are you a camper? What horror stories and lovely stories and memorable stories do you have to share? Do tell!

rituals: when grace comes in the form of a red coffee mug (ashley hales).

Guest post Tuesday! Meet Ashley, one of my Voxer friends and Redbud friends and writer-in-general friends. I love that she realized a set of ordinary ol’ red coffee mugs weren’t actually so ordinary – and the ritual that began with them ran so much deeper. Because it’s true: the not-so-ordinary rituals truly DO make the story that much deeper. Enjoy! 

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I decided several years back that I really wanted some fancy red coffee mugs from Williams-Sonoma – something special to hold my morning coffee. After saving up, I ordered a pair of red mugs. They seemed so very cheerful.

When my friend Melissa and I decided to pray together every Thursday, I brought out the red mugs. Sometimes just having something beautiful and warm to hold in my hands for our truth-telling would be enough. Today, I can’t help but think of them a bit like sacraments. They are outward signs of something deep and mysterious, something that was the very means of grace. And now (having moved away) when I pull them out of my cabinets, I feel the ache of absence.

Of course there was everything that came before the mugs: there was our laughter over our frazzled nerves, our commiseration together as we both could never seem to get our houses in order, and a our shared desire for talk deeper than diapering and sleep schedules. Plus, we were pastors’ wives. We figured maybe we should give this prayer thing an actual go – see if it really was as life giving as the Bible said.

Every Thursday morning up until our recent move, we committed to the slow and steady grace of prayer. Our older children were in school and Melissa would come to my messy house, her smaller kids wearing their wellies on the wrong feet and my own kids usually half-dressed. I’d sweep away the piles and put on the kettle while one of us started a video for the toddlers in the basement. We’d placate them with snacks in time for the electric kettle to ding.

There was peppermint tea in the spring, chai in the autumn, black milky tea in winter. Sometimes I’d bring out my fancy blue and white Burleigh plates with something sweet.

We’d sigh, knowing that in all the snatches of what would be interrupted time that morning, there was someone who would see us. It was a terrific freedom to confess our anger, our bitterness and resentment and most of all, to take turns pointing the other to a glorious hope that had nothing to do with our performance or the cleanliness of our homes. We’d remind each other again and again: You are loved. You are valuable. You are known. And yet, I see your brokenness. That’s real too. But friend, there is healing. There is the hope of transformation, of all things being made new.

More often than not, we’d only get through half of our tea as we distracted babies with toys, or nursed newborns or attended to the toddlers asking for more Veggie Tales. It didn’t feel like much was happening at all most times. I wondered where prayer was when it felt tacked-on or squashed in-between the demands of little children. How could God hear us and be at work when we were so very distracted?

But there’s something that goes deeper in those layers of repetitive action. I’m just so near-sighted that it’s only now, having some distance, that I’m able to see the gift of those red coffee mugs.

It was more than simply a warm beverage and time with a friend. It was more than letting go of the mom guilt about sequestering our children in the basement with a Netflix babysitter. It was presence. It was hope that God was real and that there was someone else who was leaning into all the doubts, all the hard, all the stresses of this life alongside of me. We walked through pregnancies and growing family dynamics, marital fights, her dad’s early onset Alzheimer’s, and our inclination to lose our tempers. There was no need to hide.

Those red coffee mugs were means of grace. It was grace as one of us would hand the newest baby off to use the bathroom, or to bounce as the other prayed. And like all means of grace it was so ordinary to almost go unnoticed. Perhaps that’s where the beauty is, in its very mundaneness. Perhaps the ordinary is full of wonder and we’re just numb to it, too busy to notice how grace steals in through something as ordinary as shared tea in a red mug. Perhaps there is wonder and beauty and something glorious happening through Thursday morning tea and prayer time. Perhaps this is what life is about: the layering of ordinary event upon ordinary event; but through them all grace hovers just below the surface and knits them together right into glory itself.

AshleyHalespicAshley describes herself as a recovering good girl who’s been caught by the wide mercy of Jesus. She clings to stories, hot cups of coffee, and “me, too” conversations with girlfriends. Ashley’s a mama to 4 littles, wife to her church planter husband, and holds a Ph.D. in English. She writes at Circling the Story, The Mudroom, and loves to make friends on TwitterIt’s Cara again: Have you run to the kitchen to make yourself a cup of tea yet? Otherwise, how have ordinary ol’ coffee mugs been moments of stolen grace? 

my little lady.

I call her my little lady.

She stands to the left of the kitchen sink, dressed in pearls and a sexy black dress. She doesn’t don heels, nor is her hair all done up, but she sees me in yoga pants and in rumpled, just-woke-up pajamas, in heels and in the same pair of skinny jeans I sport day after day. Together, she and I keep each other company.

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I suppose it’s a little strange to give this much thought to an inanimate dish soap holder and the pearled black dress that clothe her.

But I suppose it’s even stranger to compare her to God.

To think her Spirit-like might be to start humming a chorus about how my sin, like the dishes piled high in the sink, has been washed away. I have been made clean and renewed, sudsy bubbles scrubbing every last speck – and while that may be true, to an extent, it feels a bit too individualistic, a revivalist’s visit to the campy King of my youth, complete with good ol’ Baptist songs belted around the campfire.

Likewise, I could expound on her watchful, all-knowing, all-seeing presence. She, like the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburgtake in every last bit of activity and of restlessness, of household screams and broken tears and hushed moments, too. She looks over the valley of our small space: ashen dinner remnants stayed from the night before, the moral wasteland of our kitchen floors most certainly a swift ticket to hell’s fiery furnace. But like the sin-cleaner, an uninvolved, uncaring Great Judge isn’t the Jesus I know.

So who is she?

To me, she is Beauty.

And to me, Beauty is found in the most unlikely of places, where and when we least likely expect it.

The story continues over at Abby Norman’s blog today. I’d be honored if you joined me over there – will you? Otherwise, where have you seen the Kingdom of God recently? 

jumping on the abundance-believing train.

Abundance.

It’s not a word I use every day, and it’s not something I’m prone to thinking about – in fact, oftentimes, it’s easier for me to live in the opposite camp of scarcity.

There’s not any food in this house. 

I don’t have anything to say. 

There’s not enough time in the day. 

I’ll never be as good a writer/speaker/mother/friend/fill-in-the-blank as her. 

And so it goes.

I begin to believe in the never’s and the not good enough’s.

I begin to believe that scarcity is all there is to life, to creativity, to faith, and to me.

Photo cred: Flickr Creative Commons, Jim Mitchell.
Photo cred: Flickr Creative Commons, Jim Mitchell.

But lately, a war has been rising against scarcity. My friend Abby is devoting a whole month to scarcity’s lies. Elizabeth Gilbert talked about it a couple weeks ago at a Q & A for her new book, Big Magic. Jen Hatmaker recently wrote about it in For the Loveand let’s be honest, Jesus is quite the fan of letting people know that there’s room for everyone at the table.

So when am I going to actually believe it?

When are you and I, and him and her, and us and them, and all of the humans in the world actually going to join in believing that there’s room for us? That who we are right now is enough, that our gifts and talents and uniquely special us-ness is not only wanted but needed? When are we going to believe that there’s room for all of us?

Oftentimes I doubt my words.

I call myself a writer, but when I don’t have an agent, and I don’t have a book contract, and I still haven’t finished my manuscript, the devil of scarcity begins to creep its way in. I get so caught up in the ongoing conversation in my head – the one that’s plagued with doubt and worry and lies of not being good enough – that I think that’s the end of the story. I wonder if I’ve made a mistake, stepping into this world of words, and I begin to believe that the door’s already slammed shut, that all the books of this world have already been written, that there isn’t room enough for me.

But there is.

There’s room at the table for you and for me, for him and for her, and for us and for them, and – again, again, again – for all of the humans in the world.  

So, I’m beginning to trust in abundance, and I’m beginning to believe that this abundance happens on its own time and in its own rhythm. I don’t know if the manuscript I’m writing right now will actually, technically be picked up by a publisher and brought to the presses, but I do know that it’s brought about a whole lot of healing for me. I do know that it’s taught me to write beyond what is comfortable, to craft a story that is not merely 800 words in length, but 80 times 800 words in length. And I do know that there are a whole lot of stories and a hoard of books hidden within me.

I know this because I know abundance.

And frankly, the abundance-believing train is a whole lot more fun to ride than the decrepit scarcity wagon. 

Don’t you think?

For reals: abundance vs. scarcity. What do you think? Share, share, share!

rituals: morning snuggles (julie holly).

Were you around for last week’s ritual? You may remember Nicole’s words on snuggling with her babies in the morning – well, what fun it was for me to receive these submissions within hours of each other, AND to find two kindred mama-spirits who’d SOMEHOW landed back to back weeks. Julie Holly is a mama and a writer and a friend, and just like last week’s ritual, I love her heart and her story today. Enjoy!

(This is not Julie, but it sure is cute). Photo cred: Flickr Creative Commons, Ṁ‽ǩ€ §ρ!и@ķ.
(This is not Julie, but it sure is cute). Photo cred: Flickr Creative Commons, Ṁ‽ǩ€ §ρ!и@ķ.

Through the seasons of the year, the addition or subtraction of flannel sheets and blankets, one thing remains, the pitter-patter of our daughter’s feet on the wood floor racing down the hall followed shortly by her brother’s echoing stomps.

They make their way into our room, sometimes standing at the threshold inspecting, figuring out if their parents still bodies are in dreamland. Being a light sleeper, I wake most every time when their big toe first meets the smooth grains of wood. I wait, a happy excitement dances in my heart as I expect to see their little frames walk through the threshold of our room. Our eyes meet and dance of groggy jig as I pull back the cloud-like duvet welcoming them in to snuggle close. On cool mornings they press their toes and legs close to mine, trying to leech as much warmth as possible from my slightly warmer body, something you can only do to those who love you deeply.

I cradle my preschool daughter and nuzzle her delicate strawberry hair that smells nothing of the sweetness of spring’s luscious fruit. Her eyes close and she dozes off for a moment more before her clear blue eyes meet my stormy grays for another unspoken “Good morning I love you” gaze.  Some mornings we repeat this a few times. Our hearts filled, intoxicated by the luxury of unconditional love. Her arms reach above her head toward the headboard and an obscure sigh escapes her lips. Strained whispers rush in unison, “Hush, you’ll wake your brother!” He does wake.

The sound of his older stronger frame lugging down the hall ushers him into our room. Some mornings they argue over snuggle placement, which will be on the side by mom or in the middle of mom and dad. Yesterday he went to the foot of the bed and crawled from beneath the covers up to the pillows, where he basked in the ultimate in paternal security and love. These moments are precious privilege.

Attention turned towards the boy who made me a mom, I run my fingers through his soft hair and place gentle kisses on his forehead. “Good morning,” I attempt to say gently in my rough morning voice. We talk about how we slept and the dreams we had the night before as we ease into the day spread before us.

Them come the click-click-click-taps of our yellow Labrador bounding down the hall intent on crashing the snuggle fest.  We’re not a family that allows dogs on furniture, so Buddy’s muzzle nestles into our duvet cover while his hips dance and tail zig-zag-slaps back and forth. His cold nose, slightly moist, brushes against a hand, which quickly retracts and squeals.

Some mornings I pull myself out of bed early for mediation, workouts or writing, but I find myself drawn back to the snuggle bed. Wrinkled noses proclaim I’m smelly and little fingers reach to feel if I’m sweaty the mornings I run and I’m shunned from the sacred space. After a lightening shower (now standard protocol in parched California) I’m welcomed back, wet noodle-like hair and all. I crawl back in bed for a final few minutes before the morning momentum steals another day, because nothing beats sacred morning snuggles.

Our kids are getting older but they haven’t outgrown the snuggle ritual. The day is coming when this ritual will come to an end, but until then, I will welcome these mornings of squishing onto our shrinking queen sized bed.

JPEG-0067Julie Holly is a member of Redbud Writers Guild, contributor for Start Marriage Right and founder of Peacequility where she nurtures the wellspring of life while tackling gritty realities life (and sinful hearts) produce. Her second chance marriage has blessed her with an encouraging husband, two vivacious kids and a loving lab that keep her on her toes.

what’s saving my life right now, part 2.

Sometimes life feels a bit too much like survival mode.

I forget to put something in my calendar, and double-book myself, inevitably leaving one friend in the lurch. It makes me feel like all the I’m sorry’s in the world still don’t add up to much of an apology.

I leave the little dude in the kitchen for approximately 30 seconds, and this happens:

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I giddily schedule five back-to-back speaking engagements, all in the same month, neglecting to realize that most of these involve new material. All my free time is then spent glued to the computer screen, fingers clicking, mind churning, husband left in the lurch.

When this happens, I acknowledge the crazy and I remind myself that this too shall pass. I say my apologies, and I make changes. I move on. But I also acknowledge all those little things – which really are the big things – that are saving my life.

If you’ve been with me, you may remember this prompt from last February. Referencing The BBT’s (Barbara Brown Taylor) Leaving Church, blogger Modern Mrs. Darcy writes the following:

Once when Taylor was invited to speak at a gathering, her host told her simply, “Tell us what is saving your life right now.” She says it’s too good a question not to revisit from time to time.

I couldn’t agree more. So, what is saving your life right now?

This is what’s saving mine:

1. Making dreams of Supper Club a reality. We did this a couple of times when we lived on the other side of the bay, but haven’t made it happen over here yet. But all that is about to change. Thank you, Jen Hatmaker, for reminding me to put good food and good people around the dinner table.

2. Sitting with this book – and a creamy cup o’ joe – for approximately eight minutes every morning.

3. PRESCHOOL. Need I say more?

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4. Childcare at the gym, all day, e’ry day, y’all. Exercise is an added bonus.

5. Meal planning. Seriously, who knew that knowing what we were going to have for dinner on a random Wednesday night would save my life? But it works.

6. Upcoming trips planned: Oregon for a fall visit with the littles, Napa for an overnight with the honey, back to the Northwest for Christmas. Someone once told me that we should always have something on the calendar that makes us giddy and excited and anticipatory, in all the right ways. I couldn’t agree more.

7. Group texts spoken entirely in my love language, gif:

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8. The fact that I actually have five back-to-back speaking engagements. This is where I feel most fully alive, most tuned in to the one I call Beauty – and I am honored and humbled and ecstatic when I get to prepare and present. Hear not a whine, but hear a delight-filled Yippee!!!

9. Getting to meet up with this old friend yesterday. We once survived Snow-pacalypse 2010 together …and the memories continue.

10. Dreams of this “second car” (zippy white man and towhead children not included):

Photo cred: Rolling Orange Bikes.
Photo cred: Rolling Orange Bikes.

Yup, that’s about it. We’re rolling and cruising through life, sometimes at breakneck speed, but always stopping to smell the roses and cuddle the babies. 

What say you?

xo, c.

Seriously now: I’d love to hear what’s saving your life right now. It really is too good a question not to revisit sometimes.