Finding Joy

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It’s very easy for me to get wrapped up and overwhelmed and pulled down by grief and sadness in this world. It’s always a fine balance for me to let myself feel sadness, but not to take on everyone’s misery. Daily I make a conscious effort to listen and and stay informed, but to also allow myself joy.

I’ve been keeping a daily gratitude journal where I list five things each day that I am “hanging my hope on” for the day. It’s been a really good, conscious way to look for the joy that is in my life each day.

It’s also not a secret that I struggle with being home with my kids. Cortney worked the budget so that all three kids can go to daycare twice a week, which has helped immensely. I feel like I can run all our errands without the anxiety of taking all the children, I can do household cleaning without anyone getting in my way or messing up what I just cleaned, and–best of all–I can read and write in a quiet house (or blare inappropriate music and have a dance party all by myself…whatever).

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Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are my days home with the kids and because I get Tuesday and Thursdays “off”, I find that I am a much better mom to them. My patience has a chance to renew on the “off days” and I find that it’s easier to find the wondrous in the every day happenings of our lives.

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Eddie’s love of Legos.

Alice’s love of books…all books–board books, my books, picture books.

Charlie’s ability to make up stories. Very wild crazy stories that almost always involve his stuffed kitty.

Eddie’s endless patience for his little sister AND how much he loves to play with her.

Alice’s tiny pig tail.

Charlie’s hilarious facial expressions.

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Eddie’s willingness to “ride around the block” with his little brother, even though Charlie rarely stays with him like he is supposed to.

Alice’s willingness to give hugs and kisses and tickles.

Charlie’s desire to be a “good helper boy”.

Eddie’s thoughtful questions.

Alice’s babble talk.

Charlie’s thoughtful silence.

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Eddie’s quickness to read his sister and brother books.

Alice’s way of cuddling her blankie to her face when she is sleepy.

Charlie’s drawings of water towers.

Eddie’s sense of humor that is so much like my own.

Alice’s way of shadowing every single thing I do.

Charlie’s imagination and ability to play happily by himself.

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Eddie’s interest in reading nonfiction.

Alice’s way with dolls.

Charlie’s bond with Alice.

Eddie’s detailed drawings of Star Wars.

Alice’s cheeks.

Charlie’s big blue eyes.

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Eddie’s willingness to try anything once.

Alice’s dancing and booty-shaking.

Charlie’s chuckle.

Eddie’s love of all people.

Alice’s giggle.

Charlie’s engineer-like brain.

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These are only just a handful of things I have written down.

Each of these little goobers is so crazy different from each other. Lately my monthly therapy appointments are more focused on me talking about how to parent each kid to their own personalities than talking about myself.

Eddie is a zero or a hundred type of kid. If he’s not 100% successful, happy, winning, etc, he uses failure talk. He uses extreme talk like “everything is horrible” or “nobody loves him”. It’s all about absolutes with that kid. He is so much like me in this way. He needs lots of encouragement and lessons about how 80% is still really good. Just because he’s not best, does not mean he’s worst. He is my rule-follower, yet he questions why people would break rules or want to do mean things. He is so kind and has such a loving heart.

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Charlie is explosive. He has big feelings he doesn’t know what to do with. He is quiet and thoughtful and loving and then BAM! Throwing things, hitting people (usually Eddie), and screaming hateful words. He needs positive reinforcement more than punishments. He cannot process once his brain floods with frustration. We need to teach him it’s Ok to walk away, cool down, and come back. He wants to be helpful and loving. He wants hugs and snuggles. He doesn’t care much about rules, but he wants to be of service to those he loves.

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Alice is my little shadow. She is proof that sometimes nature does trump nurture. She was born into a house of trucks and blocks and action figures and she gravitated to the stuffed animals and one baby doll in the house. In a room full of “boy toys” she picks the pink tea pot. Not only is she shaping up to be a rule follower, but she is observant. She knows where her dirty laundry and diapers go. She already wants to do things herself. She follows directions and can find things when we ask, “where is your….?” She is starting to test our consistency and boundaries by throwing things and hitting, but responds when we say, “no”.  She is loved on by all of us, and it’s evident that her brothers and her parents have more patience when it comes to her than we have for each other.

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This summer, while I still find myself yelling too much and wishing the hours away sometimes, I have been enjoying my children in a way I haven’t been able to in the past. I’ve been allowing myself to pause and watch them and talk to them and play with them and ask them questions. I’ve given more of an effort to learning their personalities and letting them know I see them.

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Don’t get me wrong. There have been meltdowns by ALL four of us. There have been booties that have been swatted. There has been more screen time than should probably be allowed.

This summer has been far FAR from a perfect picture. However I am doing a much, much better job recognizing the privilege of being home with them while also getting enough “off time” to do work. I am only too aware that we will never have 7, 4, and 1 ever again. This summer will be the only one like it, and our last with a baby-toddler.

So I am choosing, even on the hard days, to find five things to hang my hope on. To focus my joy on.

What have you found joy in today?

“like”

It’s funny what opening up your soul and letting your feelings vomit all over your blog will do for your mental well-being.  After writing through this lonely feeling I have been having, I have purged the yuck and replaced it with hope and joy and fun.

If these things were listed on facebook?  I would click the thumbs up and “like” them all…

the smell of Charlie’s head right after a bath

all the extra hugs and cuddles Eddie gives me lately.  It’s like he can’t get close enough.

newborn grunts…even when they are producing poo.

taking Charlie out on almost-daily adventures.

the way Cort can fit his arms all the way around me now that I am not pregnant.

the first taste of coffee in the morning.

baseball season.

watching Eddie bound for the mailbox with his daddy each day they come home.

the way Charlie prefers to sleep with a buddy, and that he prefers that buddy to be me.

listening to music all day instead of having the idiot box TV on in the background.

the way Eddie’s curls stand up all over the morning after bath night.

the absence of depression and anxiety.

Charlie’s awake times when we lay on the floor together and coo.

the occasional Starbucks run during the week.

being present in the moment.

the little noises Charlie makes when he is getting ready to wake up.

Eddie’s voice each day saying, “Hi mommy!” when he first walks through the door after being away from me all day.

Charlie’s man-toots.

the way Eddie rushes to see “Baby Cha-wee” immediately after greeting me each afternoon.

Target runs.

reading blogs each morning…even if I can’t comment because my arms are full of baby.

the way Charlie turns in towards me when he is trying to fall asleep.

catching Cort checking me out.

smelling baby on me when I am not home with the baby.

the way Eddie can’t get his face close enough to Charlie.

5-hour stretches in between night feedings.

that moment when Charlie’s breath and mine meet and we both surrender to sleep.

Cort reaching for me and rubbing my back as I fall back in bed at 5am.

making time for a hot shower each day.

writing.

how attractive fatherhood looks on my husband.

naps.

giving myself permission to just hold a baby and drift in and out of sleep with the ball game on TV.

being productive.

accomplishing nothing.

this:

oh and this:

click photo for credit

(hat by CUTEure Creations, which you CAN “like” on facebook)

Life is so beautiful.

Thank you all for reminding me and bearing with me while I worked to find the beauty again.

exit interview

Sluiter Nation: Hello there, 2011.  Why do you take a seat so we can get started. Thank you.  Now, you’ve been around for a year.  How do you feel your overall performance has been?

2011: Well, I know there were a few stumbles, but considering the mess that 2010 left for me, I feel that I handled things quite well.  In fact, I feel that I left them better than I found them.

SN: Indeed.  I would agree with that.  2010 was a total bum. Total.  In fact, upon his departure, I recommended he quit the “year” biz.  Anyway back to you…what do you feel were your strengths as a year?

2011: Hmmm.  I brought some life-changers to the table.  You know, a new sister-in-law, new nephews from Ethiopia, a pregnancy.  I’d say those were pretty huge strengths.

SN: Ok, you don’t have to be so smug about it.  Yes, those were life-changers.  And they were good ones.  Anything else you are proud of?

2011: Oh, oh, OH!  I also brought a job for Cort.  That was a biggie.  2010 COMPLETELY dropped the ball on that one.

SN: You don’t have to keep comparing yourself to 2010 to look good.  We have established that he was a loser.  You also brought us some fun that deserves recognition, yes?

2011: Oh yeah, I did!  Six weddings for family and friends and some cuddly twin girls for your great friends is WAY fun, in my opinion.  And don’t forget that trip to San Diego you got to go on and meet all those bloggers.  Eh?  Fun times for sure.

SN: Oh it was.  But you are being too modest.  You’re just pointing out the big stuff.  You are also the first in 5 years that didn’t have me on the pink slip list at work.  That is sort of a big deal to me.

2011 (looking down and turning toe into the ground): yeah, well.  I thought you deserved a break with that.  I wasn’t able to keep your pay the same though.

SN: I did notice that.  And yes, that was and has been a struggle.  But we are making it.  It helps that Cort is working.  But on that note, what do you feel your weaknesses were this year?

2011: The biggest one was probably that case of depression you went through during your first trimester with Charlie.

SN: Agree.

2011: And then there was the lack of family vacation this year.  Sorry about that.  But from my chats with 2012, it sounds like there are some in the works.

SN: Oh yeah…you have been prepping 2012.  How is that going?

2011:  It’s going ok.  He’s definitely green.  Total newb with pie in the sky ideas, but I think he can handle it.  We’ve been collaborating on Project Charlie for awhile now, and he has some really great ideas about vacations and some other things.

SN:  oooo!  that all sounds great!

2011:  It should be.  Here’s hoping 2012 doesn’t get carried away and mess up.

SN: I am sure it will be ok. Are you disappointed your time here is just about up?

2011: Yes and no.  This has been a difficult job.  Restoring hope and mending brokenness is not for the faint of heart.  I am ready for a rest from it all.  But it has been a joy to see your family find happiness.

SN: And we thank you for that.  But can I just point one thing out?

2011:  sure.

SN: It’s not that we don’t appreciate your awesomeness, but could you maybe let 2012 know that besides doing great things for us, we would like great things for our friends and family too?  Maybe even more than for us?  I mean, you were GREAT, really, but in helping us, you neglected some of our closest friends.  In fact, you were the worst year some of them ever had.

2011: I know, I know.  That is the crappy part of this job.  You can be “the best” for everyone.  Some people get the shaft.  And I happened to give a LOT of people the shaft.  Part of it was my own fault, but part of it was started by 2010 and even years before him.  I just couldn’t fix it all.  There wasn’t time.

SN: I get that.  I do.  But maybe…maybe…you could let 2012 know that there are a few people who deserve a break.

2011:  Totally.  I can do that.

SN:  Oh, and before you go…I have one more question.

2011: Shoot.

SN: What is with all this talk about…you know…the “end of the world” and 2012.

2011: He he he.  I guess you’ll find out.  I’ll tell you this:  2012?  Is a funny guy.

SN: Ok.  I can respect that.  Hey, 2011?

2011: Yeah?

SN: Thanks.  Really.

2011: It was my pleasure.

So THIS is Christmas?

I don’t usually like to post about “hot topics,” but Galit convinced me a hot topic is better than no post at all.

Like most of my posts about “controversial” topics, this stems from something I saw on facebook.  It never fails.  This time of year brings out the copy/paste status updates that claim that Christians are under siege and that the government is out to de-christianize Christmas by making everyone use the phrase “Happy Holidays.”

This is one of those cut/past updates that caused me to “hide” quite a few people:

WHAT A CROCK ….. We can’t say Merry Christmas now …we have to say Happy Holidays. We can’t call it a Christmas tree, it’s now called a Holiday tree? Because it might offend someone. If you don’t like our “Customs” and it offends you so much then LEAVE …I will help you pack. They are called customs and we have our traditions …If you agree with this please post this as your status!! I AM …

Yesterday I saw this blog post (you may have to scroll to the exact post.  This site is actually blocked at school, so I can’t get you the exact link) and in turn, I shared it on facebook.

I knew I would catch some grief.  And to be honest, I don’t agree with everything the post says, but I do agree with the sentiment.

I believe that Jesus was more than just a “good guy,” however, I concur about the whole nonsense of people getting their panties in a bunch about semantics surrounding the holiday season.

It bothers me to think that people really believe that there is some sort of coup going on to destroy the Christian part of Christmas.

And to go so far as to call Christmas “ours” (um..whose? ) and that they are our “customs” (why is in this in quotes and again..whose customs?) and to call for people who don’t believe to “get out” (get out of where?  The USA?  But we have more than just Christians here…huh.), is simply not, well, Christian.

I could go on and on here giving you the history of Christmas.  I actually know quite a lot about it since I went through a very long doubting and questioning phase, but I’ll just give you the nitty gritty.

But what it boils down to is this:  December has been a month of holidays (yes, plural) for thousands of years. WAY before Christianity even existed.  In fact, Christians placed the celebration of Christ’s birth in December rather than when he was probably born (September or March) because there were already celebrations going on and this way they could justify all the celebrating.

In fact, Christmas celebrations became rowdy, drunken very immoral events throughout Europe and part of the “religious persecution” that Puritans came to the Americas to avoid was due to their disgust with how un-Christian and corrupt these practices became.  The Puritans did not celebrate birthdays or Christmas.  In fact it was outlawed.

Christmas celebrations went in and out of favor right through the American Revolution because Americans didn’t want to celebrate something that was British (since we were trying to find our own identity).

The actual revival of Christmas, which lead to Christmas as we know it, mostly had to do with Charles Dickens’ novel in the mid-1800’s, A Christmas Carol (which is where the phrase “Merry Christmas” came from).

Christmas didn’t become a “legal” holiday in the USA until close to the end of the 1800’s when the Christmas card was introduced.

Up until the twentieth century, with The Night Before Christmas  (which is where Santa first appeared as we think of him today), Christmas in the USA was small and religious.  It was with the re-introduction of pagan symbols as part of marketing that Christmas is what it is now.

Sooo…what does all that historical stuff mean?

Nothing if you are celebrating Christmas because you are celebrating the gift of love and hope to the world.

But what about the other “holidays”?

Well there is Kwanza (a strictly USA holiday started in the 60’s) and Hanukkah and the Winter Solstice.  People who celebrate Kwanza do not necessarily NOT celebrate Christmas.  Kwanza is a celebration of culture and community for African Americans.  Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday–and not necessarily their biggest (their new year, Rosh Hashanah, is actually bigger for most Jews), but has been made big by the media and marketing effects of the overall season of trying to be inclusive.  And the winter solstice is a collection of many holidays both pagan and religious from all over the world and in many cultures that happen around the same time in December.

What do ALL of these holidays have in common?  They celebrate a new hope.  New beginnings.  Something better for their culture/community/religion.

They celebrate a miracle of newness that brings hope and joy and goodness for this world.

Is it important to recognize that there are more holidays than just Christmas in December?  I think so.

Is it an attack on Christmas to recognize everyone?  No.

Nobody is forcing you to say “Happy Holidays!” I know I tend to say “Merry Christmas!” because that is what my family celebrates.

We focus on the birth of a baby that brought hope and joy and love to so many.

Do I get offended when Target tells me “Happy Holidays!” in their commercials?  No.  It IS the holiday season.  Some I celebrate (Christmas and New Years) and some I don’t.

But that isn’t the point.

The point is that we spread cheer and love and kindness.

The point is hope.

And my hope for you is a beautiful season filled with love and joy.  But mostly hope.

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