Monday, June 29, 2015

The Value of Vacation

A few weeks ago we headed out on our first family vacations in a long while--we escaped to the beauties of southern Utah, those breathtaking red rocks, and the natural wonder of Zion National Park. On the way down we stopped for the open house of the new Payson temple. Wow, it was beautiful.

We got to St. George and swam, went to the St. George Children's Museum (a wonderful little gem), and showed the kids lots of local history sites.
The kids on the St. George Temple steps

I love the brilliant white of the St. George Temple--so beautiful!

The temple visitor center is a great stop for Sunday after church.
Then we went to Zion National Park where we stayed in cabins, did a little hiking, and let the kids play in some streams.

With a few weeks behind us now, it would be easy to gush about how wonderful every moment of that trip was. But that wouldn't really be true. Like anything else in a family, there were moments of pleasure and moments when we wondered why we were trying so hard to form good family memories. Some moments were delightful and some moments involved discipline (jumping from bed to bed in a hotel room earns you some quiet time in a chair with your arms folded).

Things had reached a stressful peak around day three when I turned to Cameron and told him I had just decided that family vacations aren't for parents, they're for kids. Vacations for parents are called romantic getaways, right? Yes, it was wonderful to play with the kids and see beautiful sites and enjoy local attractions, but vacations carry extra stresses, too. ("Are we there yet? How much longer?" "I'm tired of hiking. My feet are so sore!" "When are we going to have lunch? I'm starving!" "I don't want to go see that. I just want to go swimming." "This water's too cold!" "When are we going to roast the marshmallows? Can I just get them out right now?")

Fortunately, later that same day we were on a shuttle riding back through the canyon when Jake started offering our licorice to some people from Australia. A nice man sitting nearby lent the kids his binoculars to look through, and afterwards they all thanked him (without even being prompted!)

"You have such lovely children. All of them," remarked the Australian couple.

Vacations are like the rest of family life. They have ups, downs, moments of joy and moments of extreme stress, moments when we wonder why we try so hard, and moments when we feel like we are actually making some headway in our journey to raising respectable adults. I at times wished for a stress-free trip with perfectly well behaved children, perfect weather and water temperatures, ease and enjoyment. But perhaps if I had that, we wouldn't have glowed quite so much when those blessed Australians praised our children's good behavior. Work helps us appreciate play. Heat helps us appreciate cold. Bad behavior helps us appreciate good behavior. And with all that properly in perspective (and any temper tantrums in the long-forgotten past) I am prepared to gush about how blissful every moment of our trip was. I love our family.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Six Years Later

Six years ago this month I was struggling through the worst trauma of my life. I had just been diagnosed with cancer. I was expecting our second child. What did the future hold for me? How would we treat the cancer? What was the best way to do it? Would our baby be safe? Would I live long enough for her to know or remember me? The questions were crushing, and there was nothing to do but keep getting out of bed and trying to tackle each day as it came.

Six years later that baby is an active kindergarten graduate.
Our then-toddler is a bustling, busy eight year old.
And we've been incredibly blessed to give them two younger sisters.

Sometimes I like to reflect on all the beauties I gained from that terrible trauma.

Life can change in an instant.
On the morning of my diagnosis we woke up thinking we were going to have a normal day together as a family. Within a few hours that had all changed forever. Sometimes we think we know what will happen to us and what we should do, but we really don't. Live life well. Express love. Serve and care for people around you. Pause to experience beauty and joy. You never know when the life you have now may change forever.

Tell them you love them.
In the hours and days that followed my diagnosis, we called a lot of friends and relatives to share our news. I was quickly surprised by how much love everyone expressed. People who don't normally tell me they love me every time they talk to me openly expressed love to me then. Everyone needs to be loved. Tell the people you love how much they mean to you.

People matter. Things don't.
The night before my diagnosis we were hammering baseboard in our basement, trying to finish a playroom for our kids. I also had a short list of 2 or 3 last baby items I wanted to collect before our baby was born. When my cancer was diagnosed and I didn't know how long I would live, I realized quite suddenly how much those things didn't matter. I no longer cared about finishing our basement and I wasn't worried about getting a baby monitor or the right baby wrap. What mattered was our eternal marriage, and what I cared about was whether I would live to raise our children. People are eternal--they deserve our love and attention. Everything else is just details.

God will strengthen you.
What we went through in the weeks, months, and years following my cancer was extremely hard, but I learned that God suits the blessings to your current difficulties. We saw miracles and I felt what I can only describe as spiritual power as God gave us the wisdom, hope, and strength for the tasks at hand. His grace is always sufficient for us. He will care for us always, but especially when we need Him most. Afterwards we will know even more surely that He lives, He knows us, and He loves us.

It's better to talk.
In the aftermath of my cancer I desperately needed to talk to people and sort through what had just happened to me. But most people didn't know what to say or what questions to ask, so a surprising number of people just didn't talk to me at all. Some would act like nothing had happened. Others would try to talk to me but weren't really comfortable listening to me or asking questions. A golden few reached out to me repeatedly and asked how I was dealing with things. I cherish the memory of those who blundered forward and tried to listen and love. I learned that when people hurt they need to talk. Sometimes we feel like we don't know what to say or do. But showing love by asking and listening (however awkward we may feel) can go a long way in helping someone feel less alone and more loved.

People are so, so good.
We were blown away by how kind people were to us during that summer. We were enveloped in the love of family and friends who fed us, helped with laundry, helped with yard work, cleaned, helped with the kids, sent cards and packages, dropped off cookies, and literally carried us through. I want to be as quick, kind, and generous as so many were to us.

Perhaps these lessons can all be summed up with one word--love. Love others. Love life. Love God. Feel His love. Love is what really matters.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Teaching Kids to Work

A couple years ago I read a book with some terrific ideas--The Parenting Breakthrough by Merrilee Boyack. When the author and her husband were raising their sons, they made a list of all the skills their kids would need to be independent, functional adults. They then set out to teach their kids these skills in an orderly, methodical way. Good idea, huh? (You can find her list here.)

So after reading the book and talking everything over with Cameron, we made our own list and created our little family plan for teaching our children to work and (eventually) become functional, independent adults. We call it our learning achievement awards.

Our list is divided into five levels--little learners (roughly ages 3-5), happy helpers (ages 6-8), busy builders (ages 9-11), capable crafters (ages 12-14), and the finishing touch (ages 15-17). When the kids finish a level we take them out to dinner at a restaurant of their choice, just us and that child.

I make the kids banners that hang in our kitchen. We try to help them set a goal every month or so of a new skill to master. After we are convinced that they can perform that particular task independently we draw their little "merit badge" on an Avery label and stick it on their banner.

Realistically, in the short run it is easier and quicker to just do tasks myself. But as our family grows (and our children get older) I realize that I can't do everything myself. And even if I could, our children wouldn't be very well prepared for adulthood. Teaching kids to work is hard work. But they feel good when they can do things themselves. And I feel a sense of satisfaction when I realize that I have taught them and they know how to do the things they need.
Grace (age 2) trying to clean her shoe

Abby (age 4) unloading the dishwasher

Jake (age 6) sweeping the kitchen
Abby (almost 6) deciding a nap sounded better than folding laundry

Monday, June 8, 2015

I Can Do Hard Things

Most of life's lessons seem to distill slowly--realizations dawn almost imperceptibly, and eventually I learn and grow. Every once in a while a learning moment is acute and memorable. One of those happened years ago when Jake was around 20 months and I was in the throes of morning sickness.

It was nighttime, I wasn't feeling great, and Cameron was putting Jake to bed. Jake was making it clear that he wanted Mom and not Dad to put him to bed, but I was too sick for that to be one of his options. I felt bad that I couldn't help him, and I worried as I prayed about the situation. The answer I received was surprisingly quick and clear: "It's not your job to give your child everything he wants or make life perfectly comfortable."

At the time that realization was a big change of focus. We had worked hard to build trust and security with Jacob. But that didn't mean we needed to give him everything he wanted.

Then a few weeks ago our family was at a local fun center for the morning with our homeschool group. We had a great time bouncing, skating, and eating pizza together. Towards the end Emma and Grace were getting tired. I made a passing comment to another mom about the difficulty of blending the play time needs of my older children with the sleep needs of my younger children. "I've never had to deal with that," the other mom said. (She only has two children, and they are close in age.) "I don't envy you." I realized as I walked off to gather my kids from their various activities that as difficult as it may be at times to juggle different kids' needs, I don't regret it. Sometimes it isn't easy to have lots of siblings. But it isn't my job to give my kids a life of comfort. Their lives will actually be better in the long run if I don't.
Sometimes as parents we want to give our children lives of ease. But in the process we may fail to give them precious life gifts of patience, resiliency, compassion, and awareness of others.
When one child gives up something they want to meet a sibling's need, they learn that other people's needs matter. They learn to give and to sacrifice. When a child has to wait their turn to receive help because I'm helping another child, they learn patience. When another child can help the first child who is waiting for help, they learn to love and serve. These are life's lessons when you grow up in a big family. They aren't easy. But hopefully on the road to developing patience, love, service, and sacrifice they learn one other critical life lesson: they can do hard things. Ahhh, now there's a lesson I really want them to master.
I can do hard things. My children can do hard things. That is a lesson that is worth learning.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Organization Is Sweet

We've been working to institute increased levels of organization and cleanliness around here. Every week Jake sets goals for things he wants to work on. Each day he checks off how he does on his goals as well as the responsibilities he has for school and help around the house. We pay him each week according to how well he worked, and he can save the money for clothing and other needs. He is naturally a responsible kid, and he has been doing awesome.
Jake designed this clip to hang up his weekly lists and goals.
I helped Abby and Grace make little chore charts for morning and bedtime responsibilities. They had fun choosing paper and attaching stickers, and they were both pleased with the finished product.
Mornings they make beds, pray, get dressed, brush their teeth, and get their hair done.

At bedtime they clean up the house and their rooms, put on their jammies, brush their hair and teeth, and pray.
While we were working on those little beauties, I noticed that we hadn't been hearing from Emma. Never trust a quiet toddler. What was our little explorer doing all this time? Cleaning up from breakfast, of course. She started by pulling the oatmeal pan down and scraping out the last few crumbs. She then went on to find the brown sugar bag and evenly distribute its contents on her face, hands, shirt, and pants. Mmm mmm good.

Organization is sweet. Just ask Emma.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Just a Bit of Kindness

Years ago when Jake was preschool age we made a little tie board so we could teach our kids to tie their shoes. (Of course, all kids' shoes these days have velcro...but it's still an important life skill!) Now that Abby is our resident kindergartener, I've been working with her on it.
Tie a knot. Make a loop. Draw your other piece around your loop. (No, not that way, the other way!) Now chase your thumb out through that hole. (No, that way! Here, use this piece.) OK, now pull these ends tight. Look, isn't that beautiful?
It's slow work helping a little kid learn to tie bows. She needs to be encouraged, to know she's making progress, to know that she really is going to figure out how to do this all by herself one day.

"You're doing a good job, Abby. Look, you already got all four of these done!" I say. And I think about how much little bits of encouragement make a difference to all of us.

Life is hard for everyone. Deep down inside everyone yearns for a few kind words.

"You're doing a good job."

"You have such a talent for that!"

"It may not seem like it right now, but things will work out."

Kindness is the essence of greatness and the fundamental characteristic 
of the noblest men and women I have known.  ~Joseph B. Wirthlin

Life is hard. Motherhood is hard. Choosing words that are kind, encouraging, and uplifting makes a big difference for everyone.

Monday, May 18, 2015

What a Year Can Do

Last fall Jacob started on his first soccer team--the Great White Sharks. He had a good coach and a wonderful first season. We were proud of him for hustling after the ball and even getting a winning goal in one of his games.

But there was one little problem. His games were outside and my sweet Emma did not appreciate the sunlight. We tried sitting in shade and arming ourselves with hats, sunglasses, and umbrellas. But eventually I would always end up trying to entertain her in the car for at least part of Jake's games. I wanted to watch him play but I just couldn't.

This spring the Great White Sharks have returned to the field, and Jake is having fun. And I still can't get over how contentedly Emma sits on my lap during the games, wearing her shades and feeling good about life. It's more than I would have hoped for last year.
Sometimes life is wonderful and everything seems to be going well. Sometimes life is hard and we wonder when it will ever get better. In those times it's good to remember that you never know the difference that a few months will make.