This holiday season brought so many firsts to my family without my dad. I turned 30 without him (which was surprisingly hard). We had our first Christmas without him. His birthday would have been the day after Christmas, and that was a tough day this year. And then my parent’s anniversary today. It was one thing after another, and our family would have had every reason to sit in a corner somewhere and just let the sadness consume us. I know we all wanted to at various points, but we didn’t.
I think our holiday season was a beautiful representation of everything I have learned in 2012. Experiences this year have taught me that we are not limited to one state of emotion at a time. There can be sadness and sunshine together. We can cry and we can laugh in the same breath. We can remember and we can move forward in the same step. But I’ve also learned that it is so much easier to exist in two (or three, or four, or five…) states at once thanks to the grace of God and the love of a good family.
My dad’s unexpected passing in August has changed my entire life, but not in the way I would expect a death of a loved one to change it. I miss him – we all miss him – but I am learning to miss him, to remember him and, at the same time, to carry him with me as I walk forward. Because he was a man who deserves to be carried on.
Christmas was spent with family who filled our homes with laughter and our hearts with love and light. And though there were moments for each of us where the sadness rose up and threatened to overshadow it all, I was so proud of my family for feeling the sadness and yet choosing to still carrying on. And with each step forward we took, we carried my dad with us. I felt him there.
I decided instead of writing a long, boring blog post outlining every move we made over Christmas, that I would instead put some of our highlights together in a slideshow. As I sorted through our pictures, I was overcome with pride because you can see the joy on the faces of my family. We may not have been happy the whole time, but we were joyful and we were grateful. I hope you can see that joy in our faces. I hope you can feel the love in our family. It’s too strong not to share it.
I am proud of us for moving forward with new traditions without my dad and for carrying carrying him with us as we celebrated old ones. For the first time, we all played golf on my dad’s birthday without him. And we ordered Chinese food for Christmas dinner instead of cooking. But we also still said our family prayer when we sat down to eat, just like we do every year. And we still went to see Christmas lights in golf carts.
It’s a new year. And, though this morning it was hard to think about starting an entire year that my dad will never share with me, I am learning to walk forward while carrying the most important parts of my past with me. I’m learning to be grateful in the midst of grief. To be kind in the face of frustration. To be gentle in the waves of anger. To remember while moving ahead. That’s what New Year’s is for, isn’t it? To look back and ahead at the same time?
I think I’m ready to do that.
First, let me start this post off by showing you this super adorable video of Gracie dancing to some freaky Asian cartoon video from YouTube. I submit this as evidence that, at times, she is normal and adorable and lots of fun.
Okay, now that we all love Gracie, let’s talk about what the heck is going on with her and why I am very close to selling her on Ebay.
Parenting Bean was relatively easy. He was an easy, happy baby who has grown up into an easy, happy preschooler. The ride in between was mostly easy and happy, too. He had his moments, but Bean was very reasonable from a fairly early age. If you could explain something to him or give him a choice, then he was pretty much willing to work with you. He certainly spent his fair amount of time in the time out chair, but he wasn’t in that phase for very long.
Bean being so easy to parent is probably why parenting Gracie has been such a nightmare. Now, don’t freak out (NANA…). I didn’t say SHE was a nightmare. I said PARENTING her is a nightmare. Honestly, Chris and I don’t know what the heck we’re doing when it comes to Gracie. Whatever we’re doing, it feels like we’re doing it wrong.
Do you remember in college when you’d go out to bars with your friends and have one too many drinks? And then, in that state, you had to remember where your apartment was and how to get yourself home safely with your cell phone and wallet still in your purse? SUCH IMPORTANT DECISIONS TO MAKE AS A DRUNK COLLEGE KID! That’s a lot what raising Gracie feels like. Like you’re stumbling around drunk late at night and trying to find your way without doing significant harm to anyone along the way.
It’s very hard to describe Gracie other than to say that she is extreme. She gets extremely happy, she is extremely adorable, she is extremely funny. But she is also extremely dramatic and extremely loud and extremely frustrating. I know that a lot of it is her age. She’s 21 months old, and I can tell that some of her frustration comes from not being able to communicate what she wants to say. She does know a lot of baby sign language (they use it at school), but it doesn’t seem to help. And Gracie takes that frustration to an extreme level of anger. And her weapon of choice when she gets angry is crying. It is not an exaggeration to say that Gracie cries just about all the time. She does a whining fake cry when she wants something. She has a dramatic, crocodile tear, sobbing cry when she doesn’t get her way. And she has a high pitched, shrill cry when she reserves especially for when we’re out in public. The crying is about to undo us.
We have always been pretty firm parents. We do not give in to whining or crying at all. But Gracie makes that incredibly difficult because she will continue crying for as long as it takes, and it can take a long, long, LONG time. (Remember the “thank you” at dinner a couple weeks ago?) At home, when we are by ourselves, it is much easier to ignore the crying and whining. We usually send her to her room until she stops. But when we are out in public or even when there are people around, it becomes a whole different issue. And it becomes embarrassing because I AM THAT PARENT. I am the one with the screaming kid. EVERY TIME. And I’ll tell you, I’m getting really tired of being in that position.
The problem with being out in public is that usually, Gracie is pitching a fit because she doesn’t want to sit where ever we are – in a grocery cart, at a restaurant table, in my lap, in a chair. And no matter how much we bring to keep her entertained or happy, she is dead set on being angry. That’s a big problem we have with her, too. You cannot talk Gracie down from a temper tantrum. If she gets mad, she is mad for the rest of the night. And her mad is ear piercing and long-lasting.
With Bean, if he got upset in public, then we simply took him outside for a quick time out until he calmed down, and then we went back to wherever we had been. But Gracie is a different story because unlike Bean, Gracie has no desire to be where we all are. In fact, taking her away from the table is like rewarding her because she gets to get away from the place she didn’t want to be. And let’s talk about time outs with Gracie. She thinks they are so much fun. If you ask her if she needs a time out (which is our warning in our house), she claps her hands and says, “YES!”
Some days, I worry that I am too hard on Gracie. Four days ago, we were coming home from a shopping trip with my mom, sister and our kids. Gracie started screaming when I put her in her car seat, and she did not stop for the entire 90 minute car ride home. I ignored her for most of the drive, but it is exhausting and maddening to listen to someone scream for that long. Not to mention, my mom and sister were there witnessing this episode, so I was humiliated on top of that frustration. My mom had to stop for gas about halfway home, so I very calmly and without saying anything, got Gracie out of her seat and sat her on my lap for a minute. I cleaned off her face, wiped her nose and tried to get her to calm down. But I didn’t really have to try. She instantly calmed down because she got exactly what she wanted. She got out of her seat. Then, when it was time to get going again, she screamed bloody murder when I put her back in and for the rest of the drive home. When we got home, she had been crying for almost two hours. Since it was already close to bedtime, I immediately led Gracie back to her bed and put her down for the night right away without saying too much at all. I wanted her to know that she was in trouble. She continued to cry for another hour. And I felt terrible all night. Who wants to be that parent who is toughing it out while their kid just wails? At times like those, I feel like I’m being too hard on her.
But then, other times, I feel like I’m being too lenient with her. Gracie was helping me clean up her bedroom today. She started screaming at the top of her lungs because I put away a certain book she wanted. She screamed and threw herself down on the floor, kicking and throwing anything she could get her hands on. So, I picked her up and walked her over to time out. I got down to her level, like you’re supposed to do, and I said, “Gracie you are in time out because you are throwing your toys.” And she looked me right in the eye, hit me straight in my face, and then took off laughing hysterically down the hall, turning around to see if I was chasing her. I dragged her back to time out, like, four hundred times, each time with her laughing even harder. And the whole time I thought, “Maybe I’m being too soft?”
See? We are just all over the place with Gracie. We have tried just about every parenting solution we can think of, but it is clearly not working. I’m not asking for a perfect child. I’m not even asking for Gracie to change at all. But I need some help figuring out how to respond to her.
I could spend hours researching online and spend hundreds of dollars on stacks of parenting books, but you guys are always better than a parenting book anyway. So tell me, imaginary friends. What am I missing? What are we doing wrong? What else can we try?
If you’ve been around here for long, you know that I write occasionally for Southern Weddings Magazine. I write for them not only because they produce a beautiful wedding magazine which focuses on more than just a wedding day, but mostly because their staff of strong, faithful women inspire me to be better. I first became connected with SW through the owner and editor, Lara Casey. Lara and I actually went to the same high school, though she was a few years ahead of me. I didn’t know her personally. I knew OF her because she had this fantastic, blazing red hair and I would dream that one day I could somehow persuade my own frizzy mass of red hair to cooperate and be as lovely as Lara’s.
Somehow, years later, Lara and I became acquainted because our small businesses generated a lot of the same audience, namely young, soon-to-be married women or those who had just begun their marriage adventure. Lara and I have continued to foster a meaningful, professional relationship over the years, but I think it would be dismissive of me to stay that that was all I found in Lara. To be honest, she is an incredible mentor to me. She inspires me (and thousands of others) to live better by doing better.
There were times when I was first beginning to grow this website when I asked myself what it would become, if it would become anything. This was back when Chris and I were putting together our own WordPress themes with duct tape and glue in the basement of our house in Connecticut and calling it a brand. I was seeing my readership grow (no doubt that was DESPITE our WordPress themes, and not because of them…), but I didn’t know what to do about it. I had no next step. Well, actually, I did have a next step. I knew what I wanted to do, but I had no idea how to do it. And that’s when Lara came in with her magical compass to point us in the right direction.
Through a series of short video chats and phone calls, Lara helped me gain the confidence to grow my website into a small business. She told me that success was there in front of me, and I just had to take it because no one was going to give it to me. So, that’s what we did. We worked with a professional web design team to overhaul our website and launched this beautiful blog that you see here, crossing our fingers the entire way and praying that people would actually keep coming back. I also began to develop business plans for Marriage Confessions, and started setting goals for myself and my website. When I began treating this like the small business that it was, Marriage Confessions did just as Lara predicted. It soared.
Since the launch of this website in March of 2009, Marriage Confessions has had over 6 million pageviews from more than 433,000 unique visitors. On average, 17,000 people visit this website to read my writing every month. In 2010 and 2011, MC was nominated as Weblog of the Year, and in 2012 we actually won Best Topical Weblog. For a kitchen-table writer, it was a dream come true.
To say I have been blessed is an understatement. This website continues to bless our family financially and to fulfill me in ways that I didn’t even know I needed. It gives me a place to write, to grow, to laugh, and to learn. It is my passion and where my blood, sweat and tears are poured out. And those sky-high goals I set for my little website in the basement of my house several years ago have become a reality for me in large part because Lara pushed me to excellence when I was settling for mediocrity.
One of the things that is the most inspiring to me about Lara is her practical approach to success. She uses lists and steps and goal setting. Success isn’t some abstract idea floating out there. To Lara, it is tangible and it is our responsibility to use the gifts God has given us to achieve it.
To kick off the new year, Lara has been doing a series of blog posts on her blog about how to make things happen for yourself in 2013. She has been posting a 10-step process to goal setting over a series of three different blog posts (click here for Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four), and I have been reading and acting along with her. When she makes her list, I pull my little notepad out and make my own. Some of my goals are for myself personally, some are for our family, and some are professional goals both for my teaching career and for Marriage Confessions.
One of the parts of her series that I found the most helpful was choosing a word for 2013. Just one word that defines what you want to be and do and accomplish in this new year. Before I could choose my word for 2013, I had to look back a few years at where I have been so that I can figure out where I want to go.
In 2010, I battled depression that left scars much deeper than I realized at the time. That year was marked by change and anxiety and uncertainty. It was a year that took my enthusiasm for life and beat me back down until I felt silly for being excited about anything. How could I be so excited when everything was so bad, or when things could go bad so quickly??? If I had to give 2010 a word, it would have been languish.
Languish: Lack of vitality, grow weak. To fail to make progress or be successful.
In 2011, I was not just pulling myself out of depression, but was actually learning to be thankful. Our family was in a better place, we were thriving, we were flourishing, we were successful. I was digging deeper into my faith, and learning to be thankful for every good and perfect gift. I spent the year understanding how to accept help from others, and how to say thank you for that help. If I had to give 2011 a word, it would have been gratitude.
Gratitude: The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
2012 found me pursuing new dreams and setting even scarier goals in the form of a book. This is a goal that I have continued to work towards, but the process itself has taught me how to have faith and trust in God’s perfect timing. Later in the year, my dad passed away and the loss overwhelmed me. Through it all, my family focused on our faith. We came together in prayer. We strengthened each other with scripture. We blessed each other with support and kindness. It has been and will continue to be our faith in the Lord that gets us through this grieving process. Because it was a year of trusting blindly in the midst of great trial and sadness, if I had to give 2012 a word, it would have been faith.
Faith: Having complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
I’ve been thinking about what my one word for 2013 should be. Faith was at the top of my list, but that wasn’t active enough for me. I’m tired of sitting on my knees in thanks. I want to be grateful in actions. I want to do something this year. I want to be JOYFUL. I want to be JOYFUL about the gifts in my life. I want to be JOYFUL about possibilities and opportunities. I want to be JOYFUL about disappointments and challenges. I want to be JOYFUL about my marriage and about my kids. I want to be JOYFUL at work every day. I want to be JOYFUL when I sit down to write. I want to be JOYFUL because I have a lot to be joyful about. My word for 2013 is joyful.
Joy: The emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing
what one desires. To delight.
Everything I do this year will be done with that word in mind. I will say yes to what makes me joyful, and I will say no to things that don’t make me joyful. I will live in a state of joy because…well…just because I can.
So many of you have been Tweeting your one word to me, and I keep retweeting them because they are so fantastic. I love seeing where people are going, and your one word is like showing people a map. So, leave a comment below and tell me, WHAT IS YOUR WORD FOR 2013?
I’m a loser. I lose things. Not everything, but a lot of things. And generally, it’s the same things over and over again. I lose my cell phone all the time, and sometimes I lose it for a couple days at a time. People text or call me and think I’m not responding because I’m avoiding them, but usually it’s because I’ve misplaced my cell phone for a while. Same thing happens with my sunglasses. I don’t really know what happens to them, but they will just disappear for a couple days at a time.
I also lose my wallet a lot. One time, I went to the grocery store without it one morning. I did all my grocery shopping and didn’t realize it wasn’t in my purse until I got to the check out and they had already rung up all my groceries. They grocery clerk was not amused. So, they let me load up all my groceries in a buggy, and then they held the buggy for me while I ran home to get my wallet. And then, not three days later, I did the exact same thing again. But this time I was at Target.
So, occasionally I lose things.
But I have a reason! I have an excuse! IT’S MY CHILDREN! IT’S ALWAYS THE CHILDREN! Well, not directly. Although, Gracie loves to walk around with my purse on her arm, my sunglasses on her face and my cell phone up to her ear. I don’t know where she gets it…
Seriously, I lose things a lot because of my diaper bag situation. I am right on the edge of not having to carry a diaper bag anymore. I keep diapers, wipes and a change of clothes for each kid in my car, and the only thing the kids ever really need when we are out nowadays are their sippy cups. Though, they both drink out of regular cups, too, so I’m starting to carry those less and less in favor of letting them use real ones if we’re out to eat. They do still like having snacks when we’re out and about, but I can throw those in my purse. But I haven’t completely let go of my diaper bag yet. Sometimes, I will carry a fully loaded diaper bag when I really need to pack some heat, like on long days out of the house or a time when I know I’ll need to bring some entertainment for the kids. But I’m in the middle of transitioning into being a purse-toting mom for the first time.
This has caused lots of problems. I used to just keep my wallet, keys, sunglasses and cell phone in my diaper bag. It served as my purse and my survival kit for my kids. But these days, I’m bouncing around more between my purse and my diaper bag, which means I will occasionally leave things in one bag when I am carrying another. Ahhh… the plight of a mom.
This past weekend, something was lost at my house. I’m not going to be more specific than that, but it was a very expensive, very important something. And it was lost. It had been sitting on our kitchen counter for weeks. Neither Chris or I had touched it. And then, two days ago, I picked it up for something but when I went to open it, there was something missing from inside. And there I stood, holding the remaining evidence in my hands.
I swore up and down to Chris that I had not touched what was missing. I had simply grabbed the thing and what was missing was already missing when I picked it up. I had not lost it. It wasn’t my fault. And, though Chris insisted he believed me, it was only my things that we looked through – my purse, my bedside table, my side of the desk, and my diaper bag. I started to get pissed.
“Why aren’t we looking through your things?” I demanded. “What about your piles and your wallet and your car?”
“I wasn’t the last person to have it,” Chris said patiently, while rifling through my car console.
I know deep in my heart that it was lost before I picked it up. I just know it. But I also know that Chris doesn’t really believe that. And that just bakes my biscuit.
So, yesterday I did something about it. I bought myself a new purse. A really nice new purse. I got a $100 Macy’s gift card for Christmas and I spent nearly the whole darn thing on a purse, which I’ve never done before.
I came home and I cleaned out my diaper bag. I moved everything that was mine into my purse, and everything that was left (which was mostly toys and used Kleenex) was put back where it was supposed to be.
I am proud to announce that I am now diaper bag free! I vamped up my car bag, so that it includes even more necessities, should we need them while we are out. Now, it has diapers and wipes, a change of clothes for each kid, a few things to entertain the kids in an emergency (Play Doh and lacing cards), two empty sippy cups and a set of small plastic utensils in case we find ourselves out to eat somewhere. All of these things will stay in my car and can be used as needed, but this means I don’t have to pack and carry a diaper bag every time we leave the house anymore.
I came home super proud of my revolutionary purse idea. I even told the sales girl at Macy’s that I was buying this purse to celebrate being diaper bag free. She said she had two little ones under five years old, and so she totally understood. But you know who didn’t understand? Chris. He came home and I told him all about my new purse and how I wasn’t going to carry a diaper bag anymore and how this would mean I would be able to keep up with my stuff better and wasn’t he so proud of me???? And you know what he said?
“You DID lose that thing, didn’t you?”
So, I am now in need of a good divorce attorney. Please send any recommendations my way. Thank you.