Autumn and Me

Last weekend we celebrated Autumn’s sixth birthday.

It’s been a bit of a struggle to get my head around the fact that I am in possession of a six year old! Perhaps it has something to do with her growing independence, her rapidly expanding intelligence or the fact that I cannot keep up with how much her little character keeps changing right before my eyes.

image3

I’ve read that the oldest sibling is often organised, a natural leader, a high achiever, an adult pleaser and independent. And I nod along because I do see many of these traits in Autumn.

There are mornings she is standing at the front door, coat on and school bag packed, waiting on me to get my crap together so we can actually walk up to school.

Is my book bag in, Mummy?
Did you pack a spoon for my yoghurt?
Did you sign my reading diary?

(Her prompts are both helpful and annoying because usually I have done none of that stuff.)

She’s a wee stickler for detail. A far cry from the ‘just wing it’ attitude of her mum she likes to know the whys and wherefores, the ins and outs. On leaving the house it will often sound like this –

Where are we going?
Where is that? Is that near here?
How soon will we be there?  How long is that?
Who will be there? I don’t think I know them. Who is that again?
What do they look like? Do they know daddy? Do they live near us? 
So, who else will be there?…..

Yeah. It’s tempting to just stay at home.

She’s really perceptive and sensitive to the feel of the mood in our house. If I am stressed or feeling a tad over stretched or fed up, a little voice will always pipe up –

Are you tired mummy?
Why is your face like that?
Are we making you angry mummy?
Do you need a coffee?

Yeah. You don’t get away with passive aggressive in our house.

She’s a hoarder. Under her bed is a warzone of teeny tiny bits of plastic crap and little scraps of paper ‘that are important!’ as well as endless beads, clips, necklaces, purses and lip glosses from Christmas 2012. Every so often I will go in with a bin bag and do a massive clear out while she is at school. Obviously.

She dances around like a deranged Michael flatly. And not in a show off everyone look at me sort of way (a blessing!) – but just off on her own in her room, giving it stacks.  ‘I made this up myself!’ she shouts.

She is a plain eater. Nothing with spice or herbs or flavour will pass her lips. She has eaten cheese sandwiches for her lunch everyday for about 8 months. I try to switch it up, sneak in a slither of ham or roast chicken. But no, apparently there are red bits and chewy bits and she comes home with a stern reminder ‘Sure I only like cheese, remember?’ Yep. I remember.

She’s a quiet observer. I see her watching, listening, noticing, thinking and trying to find her way in the world and discover her own wee preferences and personality.  In the last few months I have watched her go from Frozen to Monster High (help!) then come back to Frozen then onto discovering the Wii, then dabble in art and craft. These days, it’s pop music and dolls!

She delivers one liners as only a six year old can do. Not long ago, on a dull and dreary, runny nosed, overstretched hideous Sunday afternoon, I was a weeping mess on the sofa and she offered this little gem – ‘It’s good having lots of kids, Mummy. But it is hard.’ I nodded in agreement, staring at her, thinking- how did you come out of me?

And so, my eldest child is six and everything seems to be changing.

There was a time she needed help putting on her shoes and picking out her clothes. She used to bring me her favourite stories to read to her. She used to need me in the school cloakroom.
Now she sorts out her own wee outfits and she can read her own books.
Now she runs off at the gate, barely saying goodbye.

And I am so proud of her having a go and I’m so pleased she is learning and growing and changing. But yet, a small part of me misses being needed in such an obvious, practical way. I miss the days when the roles where so clearly defined and I knew where I stood and how to get it all done well.

So I spent some time thinking about this and I actually came back to the conclusion that Autumn still needs me. (yay!)

But it just looks different now.

It looks more like listening really well and trying to understand her world and believing in her.
It looks like continuing to bang on about being kind and honest and the power that lies in that stuff.
And helping her to notice the forgotten and overlooked, the lonely and lost.
It looks like telling her value and worth mean more than the price and cost.
It looks like helping her face up to everything that upsets, worries and scares her and explaining how being brave can mean talking about it and maybe trying again.
And reminding her that the answers to life are not found on a small screen. That ‘actual’ trumps digital and virtual.
It looks like showing her small does not mean insignificant and vulnerability does not mean weakness.
And telling her our greatest hope for this life lies in the power and presence of Jesus Christ.

And so perhaps the real stuff of parenting begins now?  Maybe as she takes another metaphorical step away from me, I need to take a step (insert giant leap) closer to God. Because some of this stuff strikes me as a lot harder than tying shoe laces and choosing outfits…

So I pray for my big six year old, her place and purpose in this world.
And I pray for me, her mum. That I’ll be the mum she needs whatever that looks like or requires or becomes.

I pray for Autumn and me.

FullSizeRender-1

Advertisements

When all of the words are mine

It happened on an unusually sunny afternoon as Autumn and I were walking home from school. One of her little hands held mine and the other was clasped around Magic, her beloved pink unicorn. It accompanies us wherever we go. And it needs washed.

We were chatting breezily about our trampoline and how long it would be until she could wear socks to school and how a small k and a big K are so similar. You know, all of the things.

Then she started on about something that had happened in class. She’s five so there is always an anicdote or two to be heard on the way home from school. But this one seemed to have annoyed her a little bit. She was doing her best to explain but I cut in and said this;

‘Don’t worry about it Autumn, just say something to your teacher.

Did you eat all of your lunch?’

And we carried on down the path towards home.

image

But later my mind took me back to that scene, that walk home with my daughter. I think she was trying to explain a situation that wasn’t quite right. I think she was trying to let me in on a little bit of her day and the part that went wrong.

But I got impatient.

I jumped in, dismissed her worry and solved the problem, in a few words.

And I do this a lot.

Because it takes time to understand their frustration or disappointment or questions. Listening well means I can’t get my agenda done, it means I can’t move on to the next thing.  Sometimes, it is so hard to slow down, be quiet and listen.

untitled

And in my parenting class we had been learning about reflective listening. We had talked about waiting for our children to explain themselves rather than offering our quick advice and judgements.

I think on the surface, fixing their stuff in an instant feels really efficient and caring. As I stomp through the day I impart my hard won wisdom and knowledge, quickly putting out all the fires and with enough energy left to start into their homework.

But in truth, sometimes I miss out on the explanations, I miss out on the opportunities to have those important conversations.

What if I worked out a problem with my daughter instead of for her?

So can you tell me why this is making you sad?
Why do you think this keeps happening?
Can you think of some ideas that could help?
Would you like me to ask you about this again tomorrow?

This will take up a lot more of my time. This will cause me to engage my brain and my heart. But my daughter will feel more understood and valued. We’ll feel closer and more connected. It is so worth the investment!

And I guess in some ways I relate to God in a similar fashion -always rushing, hurried and constantly interrupting with my own ideas and solutions. I’m not prepared or ready to let Him show me something new or discover the truth He wants to share.

I’m hard wired to always have the answer, convey what I know and hear my own voice. I like having the control of my own story. Perhaps I don’t fully trust He has all the answers. Perhaps I am just so proud of all my accomplishments that I don’t think He is worth the investment of my time. Because listening is not about me, it’s about Him. And that’s tough. I much prefer the focus and the attention to be on me.

But I once read that humility is recognising what is real and living in light of that.

And for people like me, there’s a glimmer of hope in these words.

Because what is real is my need for God, my pride and my performance.

But what’s also real is his relentless love and pursuit of my heart.

And so I keep coming back to Him with my mess. And He keeps coming after me with His love. And this, I believe, is amazing grace.

Be so still inside that you can listen at every moment to what life is offering you. Brother David Steindl-Rast

I love to multi-task, but perhaps I need to put down my phone or my dishcloth or my armful of toys, look my daughter in the eye and say, ‘I’m listening’. I need to cultivate this in our family, it won’t come naturally. And similarly, I think God might be saying to me: Tory, put down all of your stuff and cultivate a heart that listens.

I love to speak and use all of the words. I love to be right. But I think God might be saying to me: Tory, hearing your own voice is not as important as listening for mine. 

‘Always, we begin again’

I haven’t slept all night in six months.

I know this because my baby daughter Poppy was six months old at the weekend. She’s perfectly lovely, in every way. Except, she’s not a sleeper.

I love this stage, this half a year old time. She’s just started solids, which my other two kids find hilarious and fascinating. I mean, who wouldn’t be amused by a face covered in peach goop and broccoli mush? And then there’s the Bumbo- a small rubber seat to keep Poppy upright as she surveys the world of our living room. Though, again, it actually provides more enjoyment for her siblings who take turns jamming themselves into it when watching TV.image

But still, despite the thrills and spills, I wait for the night when little Poppy will sleep longer than a few hours in one stretch. I know, I know, it’s probably teeth or she’s likely hungry or perhaps it’s a growth spurt or maybe she is cold! But actually, I think this wee one might just be a bit of a light sleeper. If I’m honest I don’t really care about the reason. I just want more kip. I wonder how that would make me feel? Simply glorious, I suspect.

There’s a pink Post-it note I stuck up above our kitchen sink. It reads, ‘ Always, we begin again.’ I recently read it in Micha Boyett’s Foundbut it’s taken from the Rule of St Benedict. Sometimes, standing at the sink I think -how can I be here again? Because I clean the dishes, I put them away. I set the table, I clear it away. I strap the kids into car seats and I unbuckle them out. I fill the bath, I empty it. I go get the bags of food, I put it all away, I make up the bottles, I rinse them again. I take off the dirty nappies, I put on fresh ones. I take off the dirty clothes, I put on clean ones. Many times. Everyday.image

But when I glance up at this note it reminds me there is something deeper to be found in the returning and the repeating. The Benedictine monks, they built their life around returning to work, to rest and to prayer. They wanted to find God in all of it.  And clearly, whilst I’m no monk, everyday I get to begin again. Reluctantly, I pull back the covers, I say a groggy hello to my children and I stumble, rush and often eeek my way through another day.

But I get another shot at doing the stuff and finding Him in the work, the rest and prayer.

image

And miraculously, He comes again to me and says, ‘There is more for you today Tory- I’m going to stay with you, I’m going to be enough for you, in all of your mess and effort and bleary eyed busyness I’ve got stuff to show you, people I want you to love,  voices I want you to hear,  lessons I want you to learn. Begin again. Walk with me.’

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

A few weeks ago I started the simple discipline of trying to pray with the kids in the morning. Let me be clear, we do not sit in a circle, bow our heads and quietly say The Lord’s Prayer. In fact, this morning we were running late and prayed on the walk to school. As Noah stamped in the frozen puddles he declared, ‘Fank you God for cars and raisins’. Autumn, she’s a daddy’s girl and so she prayed ‘Look after Daddy riding his bike to the fire station’. And me, well the Arctic wind was blowing like razor blades on my hands as I gripped the buggy, so I prayed, ‘Thank you that Spring time is on its way and soon we won’t need boots or coats, Amen.’

And so, technique is not really that relevant to my kids. Or to me, actually.  I just want us to invite God into our day. To cultivate an awareness of His presence. Cherish it, invest in it.  And being intentional with prayer is a way we can begin to do that. Some days it’s in desperation for help, others it’s a discipline I know I need to practice. And sometimes I just clean forget to do it.

But, always, we begin again.

 

Gaining Ground

My third pregnancy felt different.

This time I didn’t read the ‘all there is to know’ books. I didn’t have a pregnancy app on my phone. I didn’t obsess over every twinge or niggle. I bought the essentials I knew we would need for the early days, but the rest I got down from our roof space or borrowed from my sister-in-law. I tried not to obsess over labour and hurriedly went along to all my antenatal appointments.

Even announcing my third pregnancy was quite a different experience. Often, there would be a quick offer of congratulations followed by-

‘Was it planned?!’
‘My goodness dear, you’re a glutton for punishment.’
‘Oh Tory, you’ll certainly have your hands full.’
‘How on earth will you cope?’
‘Good luck, you will need it.’

This seemed to suggest it was socially acceptable to be a family of four, but five? I must be crazy! But I gradually got used to sympathetic gestures, comments and family planning advice. (Just kidding with that last one!)

image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The truth is, although I didn’t fear my pregnancy and I had given birth twice before, I was so concerned about the changes that lay ahead once baby number three was actually here. I worried about the change to our family dynamics and how well Autumn and Noah would react to a new baby. I worried about never leaving the house. My husband is a fireman and so I dreaded the nights I would be on my own with three small children. How would I cope? I was scared of what lay ahead, scared of the sleep deprivation and really, just unsure of my ability to mother three children under five. And stay sane.

But when little Poppy arrived her perfect newborn face blew me away. The worry subsided when her proud siblings came to the hospital and were so eager to begin life as a family of five….

FullSizeRenderYet as I hobbled across the hospital car park to start this ‘adventure’, in my heart I prayed God, help me. ‘Those of you who have made the same ‘uncomfortable’ journey from hospital ward to the car will know the weight of those mixed feelings – pride, relief, pain, exhaustion, anticipation, worry, joy.

When you embark on a new adventure and you’re already spent, all you can do is pray for supernatural strength from the Father.

And so in the days that followed, my prayers for help became like breathing….

-Give me more patience for my husband and my other children.

-Help me just accept the current messy state of our home.

-May I go slower and notice the special moments.

-Help me make this transition easy and fun, to relax and allow my children to get to know this incredible little bundle.

-Help me to stop shushing them! May they feel welcome and not a nuisance.

-Help me accept the tears that inevitably flow on day three and four.

-May I let go of my pride and accept those offers of help.

It’s five months later and I won’t lie, there are plenty of hideous moments! Our house can feel more like a zoo and I am never ever on top of things. We are always outnumbered and my husband often shoots me a glance that says ‘what’s the plan here?’ The fact that we both enjoy a sense of control is, well, problematic.

But with three kids also comes a lot less pressure to appear like we’ve got it together. People’s expectations are considerably lower! And for me, there is such freedom in not having a pregnant body anymore – no ligament pain, no sore back or headaches, no more heartburn or dizziness. I can run up the stairs without collapsing at the top. The other night I sat crossed legged in their little bedroom and we played duck duck goose! I realised how good and caring they had been when I was pregnant, how often they had let me nap on the sofa. I particularly remember my daughter getting off the trampoline and coming in from the garden to put a little blanket on me, then creeping outside again- melt!

Growth in the Spirit takes place when more of your old nature dies and Christ gains more ground to live out His life in you. Jesus Manifesto

On reflection, I see how much I worried about my ability to cope and manage and ‘be all things to all people’ and that I would fall short. I feared that I wouldn’t be enough. And guess what, I am never enough. But, God is enough. And I forgot that for a while. I forgot that those three words blow my inabilities and flaws and failures out of the water. It’s not about me and my strength anymore, it’s about God and His. Doing more means depending more .  This is a hard lesson to learn for one who likes control.

Slowly,  He is showing me that self-sufficiency can become surrender, self-will can become servant hood and the daily mundane can become sacred.

There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength, I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you. Isaiah 41:10  (MSG)

And so now, I guess I’m asking myself some questions?

What stops me increasing my faith in God?
What if I begin to allow what I believe to change how I live?
What if I actually let myself be loved by God?
What if I lived with more expectancy?

 

Doughnuts, Benedict and Me

It was a cold, wet Thursday afternoon and she had brought jam doughnuts.

My friend Suzanne and her two children had come to my house for a little play date and a catch up. But somehow, all of us gathered together in a relatively small house, on a wet afternoon, did not bode well for a decent conversation!

As mums we’ve learnt our focus will probably shift from the kids to each other, to feeding the baby, to making snacks and sorting out squabbles, to tidying up the mess and going on toilet trips and then back to each other again.

And we have learned to be okay with it.

So I switch on our coffee machine and we try our best anyway.  For she had brought jam doughnuts…..did I mention that already?

Later there are piles of washing to fold, smelly nappies to change, meals to cook, tables to wipe, squabbles to sort out, calls to make, homeworks to do, bottles to wash, games to play and spills to mop up.

These days, my mind can easily become a constant whir of just.getting.it.done.

Three small children and a constant messy house do not lend themselves to providing an environment for a habit of focus. The noise and the constant questions and little people at my feet make my head hurt.

I figure if I can just make it to the sofa, then that’s where I’ll find the clarity of thought, the mindfulness, the purpose! But who am I kidding- as soon as I get there the first thing I do is reach for the remote – a bit of TV promises relaxation for a weary mind and body.

But not actually a whole lot of focus.

And so, motherhood and life at home are not my only excuses for a mind of mush. As when all is still and I do have some time to myself, I don’t even spend it wisely! Truly, I lack a whole lot of discipline and am often just bone lazy. My husband always ‘jokes’ about the fact that I need pushed. And I laugh. But he is right.

I’m not very good at seeing a job right through to the end. Come round sometime and I’ll show you all of my ‘abandoned’ DIY efforts.

I waste a significant amount of time mindlessly browsing on my phone or the tv or ipad. I procrastinate a lot, putting myself under unnecessary pressure because I’ve left things to the last minute.

I would like to live with a little more intentionality and to simply simplify! Strangely, it feels a lot easier to drag my feet through the clutter and the noise and all of the stuff. The thought of change and doing something about it seems like hard work, like too big a mountain. And I don’t really have the capacity for mountains just now.

But more than anything, more than all of this, I would love the focus to purposefully lean into that voice. You know, the one I hear in my heart- the one that says,

Give your friend a call, she needs you…
Ask your neighbour about her kids because she longs to talk…
Put the bin out for your husband, he feels love best through your actions…
Don’t rush bedtime tonight, your kids love that time with you.

Friends, I chose Focus as my oneword for 2015.oneword365

I felt there was something in me that longed for a more focused approach to life. And I think when I say focus I mean more mindful. I’m talking about paying attention to my life and to His presence. To know that even in all of the crazy, He dwells and He speaks and He comes.

And so, it is as much about learning to carry His presence as it is about the discipline and making those wise choices.

But, is any of this possible at home with three small children? With all the screens in my hand, on my lap and on my wall competing for my attention? With my blasé attitude and insane love for my bed?

I think so. I mean, I think there is hope for me. With this focus stuff.

benedictSee, I have a bit of thing for St Benedict and the Rule he wrote for monastic living fifteen hundred years ago. They aren’t really rules as such, but more of a book of insights and practical suggestions for the Christian life.

Benedict talks of sanctuary in the midst of everyday life and this intrigues me.

I suspect that focus might not mean always having a space for complete silence and concentration. It’s probably not about my present circumstances or the number of needy small people in my house. The focus I need is not found in strong principles or correct attitudes or the right environment.

It is a posture of the heart.

It is finding God everywhere I look, in everyone I see and speak to, in everything I have, in every place I find myself.

It is awakening to His presence.

It is a life lived in union with Him.

Esther De Waal writes,

For what the Rule discloses is a life in which prayer and the constant awareness of the presence of God are never lived out at the expense of concern for the demands of the ordinary daily life, of attention to both things and to people. This requires of me nothing less than holding on to a contemplative centre, a heart of prayer in the midst of my busy daily life.

Yes.

But hey, just because I realise something doesn’t mean I instantly change my ways and embrace it. Maintaining my ‘sacred centre’ is no mean feat and I suspect I will continue to figure this stuff out for a little while longer…

But I’m hopeful because here’s the thing. God comes anyway.

And maybe, as I stand and wash bottles and coffee cups, I will learn to lean in, focus and listen. I will soften my heart and hear the whisper of the One who knew me first.