Category: Mother

Donna Goff – Cleaning – A System For Staying on Top

I have the wonderful privilege of having wise and dear friends. When we can be together, we talk about the things that cause us trouble and what we are doing to ease the way. The issues the mothers we work with come up. I make notes and I share our thoughts with you. Sometimes the thoughts get buried in life for a time and then reemerge.

That happened a while ago. I was searching for something on my computer and found notes from an email conversation I had with Donna Goff. It had been incorrectly filed. : ) Then I discovered another set of notes from Ann Murdock who I had lunch with a couple of months ago.

In the next two articles I am going to share their ways of managing the daily work we all have and then on week three I will share my system and some thoughts. They are very different. One may appeal to you and then again, none of them may strike a chord. We all must find what works for us, but this might be a step toward helping you come up with a system that works for you.

Donna is an amazing person, mentor, and mother. She has a beautiful website called Mentoring Our Own – Helping Homeschool Moms Succeed.  I share her articles in my newsletter on occasion. I have spoken on stage with her, and we have had some joyful conversations.

Sometime back I wrote a few articles on emotional weight. Then Donna talked about emotional stress on her site. Guess what? Some of that stress comes because we get so involved that our work at home gets ahead of us and we begin to feel like failures. Our daily lists get so long that it seems we will never get done, which adds to the emotional weight we already feel.

I reached out to Donna because I was interested in how she managed. I had worked for over seven years to develop a system of my own and was interested in hers. She sent me a detailed reply filled with great information. Today I want to share her system with you. Donna is a woman who can mentor you online and help you manage yourself, and your family, and if you are homeschooling, that too.

Let’s begin with her reply to my query –

Mary Ann,

What can I say, but thank you? When I read your newsletter, I can see that we think alike. I guess when you are raised in an era when cleaning is a habit, it is what we want. When we work with younger moms, we can see how not having a clean space and all the training that it involves, plays out in their lives.

Let’s start by looking at Donna’s ‘refuge haven’ routines. She came up with them over a decade ago and there were seven dailies.

THE SEVEN DAILIES

1. 30 Minute Personal Devotional
2. Walk
3. Shower, Dress, Groom
4. Laundry. Start and see-through.
5. Breakfast, Dinner Prep
6. Home Learning
7. 30 Minute Clean

A few weeks later she added ‘zones’ to her 30 Minute Clean. There were seven zones. She took #7 from her refuge haven routine, ‘the 30 min clean’, and turned it into 30 minutes of ‘Power Clean’.

This wasn’t just your regular surface cleaning. It was deeper than that. BUT she only worked until the timer went off. Then she was back in that same room for 30 minutes the next day and eventually, it was all managed. The first time through takes weeks and weeks. But once done, the next time through takes less time. As a person who LOVES deep cleaning, this sang to my heart. So much easier than trying to deep clean an entire house once a year!

THE SEVEN ZONES

1. The Sanctuaries (our bedroom retreat, and other bedrooms)
2. Lumber Rooms (storage areas where things lumber about, you can’t put things away if it is a mess)
3. Creation rooms (sewing and shop where repairs are made)
4. Curb Appeal (from curb to porch to foyer).
5. Living Rooms (areas where we spend most of our day and receive people)
6. Sustenance Rooms (Where we prepare food and where we eat).
7. The Necessity Rooms (bathrooms)

I loved her words to me, concerning the enormity of this work of keeping a home in order “So, yes, I do have the bathrooms last, but for the 30 Minute Power Clean, I can handle what bugs me the most, and I love a clean smelling bathroom. Whatever bugs me the most, means I prioritize, and the important things are not sacrificed to getting a list done and then migrating the important things to another day.

If you have 14 things on a list and tackle the easy stuff first, just to Dump the list, the harder thing gets passed on and it is easy to feel like you are never done. But if you handle the hard thing first, the other things on the list move up in priority, but they get done. Each day is cleaner.”

This has certainly been my experience. I have written about cleaning what you see, right when you see it. I didn’t think of it in terms of a 30-minute power clean but if I am in the bathroom and the space between the tank and the toilet lid has grunge, I grab a cloth or wipe and clean that one thing. Then the next day I hit the floor right at the base of the toilet, and so forth. What delighted me about the 30-minute Power clean was that it was a plan. I love planned work. : )

Here again, I want to share her words from our email –
“Each day feels more productive. Lots of baggage gone, it gets addressed. I used to do my room last. No, I needed a sanctuary. Isn’t this true for all of us? We need a place to go to rest and rejuvenate.”

You all know the bathroom is my rejuvenation space. It’s where I read and sit behind a locked door and no one bothers me, well, at least not for five minutes. LOL

“I do lumber rooms next. They are like the plug to the house. If storage areas are clogged, then rooms are clogged with seasonal stuff. So, clean the lumber areas and it works like a funnel, in cleaning the house.

“If creation rooms are in disarray, then fixing things stacks up and does not get back into use.”

I know this happens because it is one of my sister, Nanette’s, challenges. She has a whole room for creating things and it often gets out of order. Working for 30 minutes in the creation spaces is a good way to make sure the rooms you use often don’t go undone until it takes days to put them back in order. : )

“Then I go to curb appeal or the entry from the curb to the foyer, then the main living areas. That is where most people start. They start with what people see first. But for the sake of smoother running home and less baggage, it is not the first for me.

“Then the sustenance rooms. That area takes the longest to deep clean, cabinets and drawers. Yes, I did place the Necessity rooms last. They are the rooms that are kept smelling nice and are easiest to keep clean each week. They are also my smallest rooms. I have three, two on the main floor. It takes less than 15 minutes to clean a toilet, wipe a counter, clean a mirror, clean the floor, and remove the trash. The combination of a 30-minute power clean, and zone cleaning can get me through. But when things get really chaotic, I live on minimum maintenance, and then as they settle, I hit the rest, and then after the lion is tamed in a few weeks, the zones get added back in.

I do want to thank you for all you do and for sharing my stuff with moms.”

Mahalo nui loa,
Donna

Isn’t this fun, thinking about cleaning in a new way? When I put my system together, which I will share in a couple of weeks, I had to think differently. It was rejuvenating. A new way of looking at your household work may be rejuvenating to you also.

Just remember that everything is an experiment. You must give it a try and then adjust. Part of Donna’s plan may work splendidly for you and other things may require an adjustment. And then again, you may need something totally different. So, experiment.

Don’t stay bogged down in what isn’t working.

 

P. S. You can check out more of Donna’s home management strategies HERE.

I No Longer Have a Bucket List or Is Parenting the End of My Dreams!

Do you have cherished dreams? Is there a goal you want as much as breathing? Do you worry that because you chose to be a parent they may never come to pass?

I can relate. I raised seven children. I was busy and overwhelmed lots of the time. I had goals and dreams and there were times I felt they could come to pass. Then, just when I felt I was moving towards them, I would be called home physically or emotionally and the dream would be on hold again.

Today, I want to encourage you and give you heart, so will hold on to your dreams while you do this most important calling, raising your family. I have often said, “You can’t know until you get there.” I have gotten to a new place and in time, I believe you will get there too.

As a child and youth, I had a marvelous bucket list of things I wanted to see, do, and become in my life. Some were BIG dreams. Others were dreams that weren’t as out front, but dreams, nonetheless.

I Want to Be a Speaker!

When I was five years old, I wanted to be a speaker. I know that’s young, but I had spoken a couple of times in my church’s children’s group, and I LOVED it. I was not afraid of getting up in front of people. It was thrilling to share something that I knew to be true, even when I was five.

When I was deeply into parenting in Montana, I attended a women’s conference with my sisters in Utah, at Brigham Young University. As I sat listening to the keynote speaker, I had a thought which took me off guard. “You will speak like this someday.” I replied in my mind, “That’s never going to happen.” After all, I had seven kids, and some were struggling. I had already had to quit speaking for schools and community organizations to manage the chaos at home.

In 2009 I began sharing family connection information with parents. For the next ten years, I traveled the United States speaking and teaching. When I began, I was fifty-nine years old, and our youngest child was 19 and just leaving home.

I Want to Write and Publish a Book!

When I was eight, I discovered the Oz books. Did you know there are fourteen, full-length Oz books? While visiting my grandma and grandpa Cazier, I discovered them in the library. I spent hours sitting quietly on the library floor reading.

It was then I decided I wanted to write a book. I began that summer. I got a notebook and hand-wrote the first few pages of my own novel. My grandma Gardner was a teacher and when our family visited her home in Logan, Utah, she would throw open her ‘paper’ cupboard and we could pick anything we wanted. I always chose a fresh, clean notebook and a new pencil and would begin another story.

In 2016 I did write a book. It took six days a week, at 4 am, for six months. It was published by Cedar Fort Publishing in 2017. It wasn’t what I thought I would write. It wasn’t a novel, but it was a story about my experience parenting, what I had learned, and excellent counsel to help others avoid some of the mistakes Don and I had made. I was sixty-seven.

I Want to Make a Recording

My mother could have sung in an opera. She had an exquisite voice and even tried out for the Lawrence Welk Show. I heard her singing while she hung laundry for her family of eleven. She sang as she cooked and cleaned. I loved her voice. I knew I didn’t have a voice like my mom’s, but I wanted to sing.

I took every opportunity that came my way. I sang in front of the whole school in 7th and 8th grades. I was brave because I LOVED singing.

When my mother was 74 her voice began to change. I asked my sister to take her to a studio and have a CD made. Evette got it done. I was 54 years old, and it was then I decided that I would make a recording of my singing someday.

It was just a wish until twelve years ago when I put a picture of a CD on my wall with my face in the center. There it hung for years. At one point, in 2022, as my efforts to find a studio and a pianist began to fall apart, I felt it would NEVER happen.

My voice, like my mother’s was changing. I was out of time, but I decided to give it one more year! I so wanted to see it happen. Last year, on Dec. 31, 2023, I finished the recording and had my own channel. That felt heady. : ) I was forty days shy of my seventy-fourth birthday.

In March of 2022, I wrote an article naming many other buckets list dreams I had knowingly and unknowingly accomplished. It was delightful to realize that because I had held on to my dreams they had come to pass, more than I consciously knew. Some came to fruition in completely different ways than I had envisioned.

In the first week of January, this year, I revisited my 3-5 year goals. I felt my bucket list was done. I had some financial goals, but they weren’t true, ‘all my life’ bucket list things. I was still working on two ways of being that matter a great deal to me, but I will be working on charity and making time, my friend for the rest of my life. LOL My bucket seemed empty.

I was happy to focus on those few financial goals because they will matter in the coming years. However, I felt a tad disappointed that I didn’t have anything exciting to work for.

One evening, not long after I wrote the article about this year’s goalsI was pondering as I sat at my desk. I often pray to God while doing mundane stuff. I don’t kneel, I just begin conversing.

This was one of those times and I was thanking Him for helping me accomplish the recording, a thing in 2022 I felt couldn’t be done. I mentioned that I had done everything I had wanted to do except to continue to work on a more charitable nature and have time be my friend.

During that prayerful conversation, I had a thought and as happened at the Women’s Conference, it brought me up short. I began to laugh. Here is it. “Well, Mary you haven’t become a dancer yet. You still can’t play the piano. And didn’t you want to learn to speak Spanish? What about painting?”

I laughed because these all have been dearly-held dreams, they just never made it to the front of the list! Because of the intervening years, they had taken a back seat in my consciousness.

I Want to Play the Piano!

I took a few piano lessons while raising my children, but I never got far because one of the kids would want lessons and our income in Montana was small.

In my late sixties, I bought a keyboard so I could take piano lessons. But I was deeply into speaking, teaching, and business building at that time. I let the dream go and when we joined our home with Jodie’s, the keyboard didn’t come with us.

I Want to Dance!

I wanted to be a dancer my whole life! I still have a few books about dancers in my library that I have had since I was under ten. In my younger days, I was able to take a few ballet lessons. But with nine kids in my family, they were short-lived.

When we moved to our current home six years ago, I searched for a jazz dance teacher who took older students. I didn’t find one, so I stopped thinking about it. After all, I was caregiving three people and when would I do it anyway?

I want to Paint Beautiful Landscapes

I thought often about being a painter. I knew in my heart I could do it if I could just take lessons. At one point I took a community class, but my children kept touching the canvas and then wiping the evidence on the wall. I let it go.

In the later years of parenting, I took a short trip and sat at the side of a lake and painted the lupine. Later, while caring for my daughter who was in a car accident, I took her to a painting class and did a piece that hangs on my wall today.

I Want to Speak Spanish Fluently!

Speaking Spanish is like my recording. I have wanted to speak Spanish for decades, but I felt the time was past. To learn another language, you must be able to remember things, and my detail memory is compromised. But I know that I wouldn’t have been reminded about my love for Spanish if there wasn’t a way. It makes me smile thinking about it.

I still have those financial goals, but now I have put some long-held dreams back in the bucket. I need to put them on my vision board and then I need to ponder how they could come to pass despite age or difficulty. Just this last year I saw a dream that didn’t seem possible at my age come to pass. : )

Here is My Message

Parenting doesn’t need to end your dreams. There will be time and opportunity. Focus on your family. If small steps can be taken, take them. Practice when you can and then patiently wait. Space for you will open. It will.

I was over fifty before many of my fondest hopes came into being. Like many of you, I felt I had exchanged my dreams for a family. But as you can see it was only a story and not a true one.

And when I thought I had done all there was to do, all I had ever dreamed about, I was reminded that I still have dreams. I am still here and I can accomplish more, if I choose.

I gave parenting my all, as imperfect as it was. I took my role as a mother very seriously. I gave up opportunities. I, like you felt that most, if not all, of my dreams would never come to pass because time was moving so quickly.

I had goals that came to pass while I was mothering. But most of my bucket list dreams came to fruition after my children were grown.

Never give up on your hopes and dreams. You may not know how to bring them to pass, or when it can be done, but hold them close and trust that you will see miracles happen.

I know this is true because I got there!

As a Mother, You Won’t Know the Value You Bring Until Later

This part of the conversation blew me away!

Remember that conversation with my daughter Kate that I shared last week? Here is the part that blew me away!

As we talked, Kate said something that left me dumbfounded. In fact, it was the reason for her call. She said, “I wanted to thank you because I have never received negative messages about your accomplishments. You are comfortable expressing pride in what you have learned, and the characteristics, qualities, and talents you have developed. You are comfortable sharing with other people in a non, you know, braggy way. I want you to know that I really appreciate that about you because now, as an adult woman, I am not threatened by other women expressing confidence and pride in themselves. I do not equate that with pridefulness.”

“That matters and I wanted to let you know. Now, I am a mother of a little girl, and I can pass that positive outlook of confidence and pride on to her, rather than the messaging of – talk bad about yourself because that is more acceptable.”

“Not all women are comfortable with their own goodness and accomplishments. We don’t always support one another. Because of the example I saw from you while growing up, I have been able to share this with my daughter and help teach her that it’s OK to be proud of your accomplishments.ngest ”

Here is how Kate ended our lengthy conversation on pride vs. pridefulness. “I love you very much, and I appreciate you not being one of those messengers in my life of ‘stay small, stay insecure, talk bad about yourself because that is more acceptable.’ I know the opposite is unacceptable.” I replied, “Wow. I didn’t know I did that!”

The Message I LOVE to Share!

This is one of the messages I enjoy sharing with moms the most – In parenting, you can’t know the value you bring until much later. As your kids grow and have kids, you find out what they took away from home that will blow you away. For me, this was one of those things, and over the last twenty years, there have been others.

I had to work hard to be confident. I came from a place where that wasn’t nurtured in me. I had been sexually abused and emotionally abused. I wasn’t allowed to decide on anything big or small, even as a senior in high school. The ability and example Kate credited me with, well, I had to work on it for a significant portion of my parenting days. I didn’t have this knowledge when I began, but all of my children saw its development over time. It eventually came and I was able to share it with my youngest daughter, even if it was unconsciously.

Parenting is a tough job. We do not come prepared in all the ways that will be needed. But if we are open to learning, changing, and growing, we will ultimately be a blessing to our children. The passage of time will show you the value of what you have done, as imperfect as it is.

So, hold the course, speak kindly to yourself when you mess up, and work to learn and grow. It will be enough!

How We Talk About Ourselves Sends a Powerful Message to Our Children

A few months ago, I had a conversation with one of my daughters on the issue of pride vs pridefulness. It was amazing and insightful. I can’t do justice to the topic in one article so I will cover it in the following three articles.

Here are the messages I will share over the next three weeks:
1. How we talk about ourselves sends a powerful message to our children
2. No matter how imperfect we are, we are giving things to our kids that we won’t know the value of until much later
3. Duality is real, especially in parenting. Two things can be true at once, even if they are contradictory.

I am breaking this one conversation into three shorter articles because the concepts are important, and I want to make sure you hear them and don’t get bogged down with a lengthy read.

How we talk about ourselves sends a powerful message to our children.

Let’s begin by defining pride and pridefulness. I used Webster’s 1828 dictionary, which is my favorite.  Pride – Generous elation of heart; a noble self-esteem springing from a consciousness of worth. Pridefulness – Having an excessively high opinion of oneself. Thinking too highly of oneself; conceited, arrogant, or overconfident.

Our conversation began with Kate sharing an amazing accomplishment she had experienced. She backed up a trailer all by herself and she was dang proud. It was a very tight space and she had never done that before. She had to course-correct a lot, but she got it done. Can I say how impressed and proud I was? I don’t back up anything! Period. I just don’t, so this was very impressive to me. I could understand why Kate felt pride in what she had done.

The following day Kate was taking her daughter to swim, and she saw the trailer. She felt pride wash over her. So, she shared it with Tessa. “Hey, do you see that trailer? I did that. I backed that trailer up and I was really scared but I did it anyway. And I am proud of myself.”

After she shared her feelings with her daughter, she made sure to send the message that it’s OK to feel confident in yourself. It’s OK to feel pride in what you do because pride is not the same as pridefulness.

Kate’s Sixth-Grade Experience

This led Kate and I to a conversation about the difference between pride in ourselves and pridefulness. I think that our conversation hits at one of the challenges moms and women face – can I think proudly of myself and my accomplishments without being prideful? Can I teach my daughters that it’s OK to feel confidence and pride in themselves?

Kate shared an experience she had in sixth grade where she learned to be self-deprecating. She was trying out for volleyball. Another girl hit the ball over the net. Kate said she was amazing; her serve was so powerful. Kate and the other girls were impressed with that beautiful serve. Some of the girls began asking her, “How did you do that? You were so amazing. It was so incredible.” The young girl replied, “Oh thank you so much. I worked all summer long. I practiced a lot.” As she walked away, the girls who had asked the question and had given her so much praise were like, “Oh my gosh. She is so full of herself. Ugh.”

A second girl whose serve was just as good as the first girl was also complimented by the other players. Her response was, “Oh no, no, you guys. I suck so bad. I am really terrible.” Then the group of girls with Kate were even more effusive in their compliments. “No, you were so good. Really. Like you are amazing.” When she walked away the group of girls had nothing negative to say.

Kate remembers observing this interchange as a sixth grader and thinking to herself, “That’s how you do it. Now I understand.” Here is what she learned – If you are confident people won’t like you. However, if you are insecure and say bad stuff about yourself then people accept you.

We can feel pride in our accomplishments without being prideful. Let’s send positive messages on this issue to our children so they are allowed to feel good about the things they master. We do this best by example. If we’re OK taking honest credit for what we accomplish then our children will learn that doing so is OK. Sharing my daughter’s sixth-grade experience with your kids can get an honest conversation going.

How we feel about ourselves, how we talk about ourselves, sends a powerful message to our children.

 

Just Do It!

Back in 2013, when Jodie and her family moved into our three-bedroom apartment while looking for a new home, I was reminded of many things I had forgotten since my children had grown up and moved away. It takes flexibility to manage a family. Things don’t always go the way you plan, and moving forward when things aren’t just what you want, well, that is the road to feeling good as a family. Here is a peek back to that ‘learning’ time. By the way, Jodie was homeschooling Maggie and Jack and bringing Mary on board. It was a big load!

What does ‘Just Do It’ look like?

There are some real advantages to having a family of six move in with you, especially if they have four children, six and under. I have gotten a bird’s eye view reminder of what it is REALLY like to parent, and home educate. I have been thinking back to my own days of doing both these things, and this has brought back memories, some good and some bad.

Today was a particularly interesting and REAL day. I had to share. It was an example of what “just do it” means in a family.

I heard the children at about 6:30, but I didn’t get up until after 7:00. It was quiet in the living room with Jodie busily working on her computer while the children watched a movie around her. That is how Jodie gets her own devotional and study time accomplished from 6:30 to 8:00. The movie is essential. We all know that watching a movie isn’t the best way to occupy children, but you do what you can, right?

Breakfast happens in shifts as each child awakes. It takes about an hour to feed Maggie, the six-year-old with CP, so Jodie often does that while she reads her scriptures or plans the day. If all goes well, and today it did, everyone is happy, it feels peaceful, and all are fed by 8:00 or so.

I might mention that on some days, one or more children have two breakfasts because by the time the first wakes till the last awakens, or Jodie has time to get food to each one, several hours can go by. By then, early risers are ready for breakfast number two. In fact, I had forgotten how often you must stop and get food for someone in this age group! No matter how your morning goes, as you move towards learning time, you keep going.

On mornings when it all doesn’t go as smoothly as today, it might be 10:00 before everyone is fed and dressed. Those are the noisy and sometimes exhausting mornings. You just keep smiling, hugging, and remembering that this too, will pass. It doesn’t matter if school begins later if it happens.

‘Just do it’ keeps everything moving when it’s not perfect!

Next, it’s getting ready for the day, taking off pajamas and getting dressed, changing diapers. This is less peaceful and usually goes less smoothly; you know how it is. One child doesn’t like what you have given them to wear, another doesn’t want their diaper changed, a third won’t hold still long enough to get dressed, and all the while Maggie, is asking for her iPad with a loud “Where are you” squeal.

Then we move to the family devotional. Quiet reverence is not the standard here. There is family singing with one voice, Jodie’s. Then a lot of “sit down, fold your arms, can you listen please” and sighing…on mom’s part. As I watch and occasionally participate, I sometimes think that I would bag it and move on. Jodie is a stalwart for sure. She is a master of ‘just do it.’

By about 10:15 today all was finally accomplished. Jodie had showered and dressed. (How she got a shower I am not quite sure!) Next, it was family work. Family work is never called chores. It isn’t a chore to do your part in your family. Chores are saved for consequences when you forget to do as asked in a pleasant way, which on some days can be often! : )

Family chores are one way that Jodie helps the children gain confidence and pride in their abilities. Jack was supposed to fold clothes. I saw Jodie pull folded dishcloths out of the drawer, unfold them, and give them to Jack to fold. (He didn’t see her unfold them.) This happened because there wasn’t any clean laundry to fold. It wasn’t that there wasn’t any laundry; it was just all still dirty. Often laundry takes a back seat to what really matters. : )

Mary was assigned to empty wastebaskets while Benny carried his little broom around copying the Bigs in his life. Maggie swept and vacuumed, and she loves helping. It will always be a special treat to her because it is never mundane.

After family work, it was school. Today, they read the classic they are working on, “Raggedy Ann and Andy”. Then they played ball. Maggie needs help with this activity. Jack is a great big brother and did his part. Then we made hedgehogs.

A few days earlier, I was telling the kids about hedgehogs. We looked at pictures and videos online and they were so taken with them. Today, out of the blue, Jack asked to make a hedgehog!

His mom didn’t put him off so that she could find a pattern and get the stuff needed. She just threw some odds and ends together. She used what she had because the interest was now. In a day or two it would probably be gone. Sparks, or what interest a child, can have a short shelf life. The younger the child the shorter the shelf life. : )

I was so busy helping that I didn’t get a photo of the table before the project began. I would have loved for you to see it. It was a disaster. Most of what we used for dinner was still there from the night before. I am sorry to have to confess that, but there it is. Some nights we move on to something else right after the meal and often, well, we are tired. : ) Jodie did what any great mom would do. She pushed it out of the way and carried on.

Here, in a borrowed home, in cramped quarters, that was all of it, all there was to “school” and taking care of ‘family time.’ There are thoughts in both our minds, mine, and Jodie’s, about what a successful home education and family-together day should look like. This is what it looks like for now.

Instead of requiring everything to be ‘just right’ before you move forward, decide instead to ‘just do it!’

It’s progress, not perfection that gets the job done.

Make Learning Safe!

Over the last twenty years, I have run across wonderful resources. Today I want to share an article that I read back in 2013. It was by Kerry Patterson. I enjoy reading his stuff because it is always fun and illuminating.  In this article Kerry outlines the parent or teacher’s job of establishing an environment where their charges can learn and grow (even experiment) without fear of being in trouble. Whether you school your children at home or they attend public or private school, we all are teachers to our kids every day! You are going to love this!

     “It Is Rocket Science”

by Kerry Patterson

When I woke up that bright and sunny morning, I never suspected that I’d burn down my bedroom. But some days just don’t go as planned.

It was a Sunday morning, and this meant that later that evening the entire Patterson clan would plop down in front of their fifteen-inch black-and-white DuMont TV and worship at the altar of the Ed Sullivan Theater. For those of us living at the far edge of the U.S.—and at the far corner of Puget Sound to boot—Ed Sullivan provided a lifeline to the bigger world of hip happenings and top-notch entertainment. Who knew what menagerie of singers, dancers, acrobats, and comedians Mr. Sullivan would bring us! Would it be Elvis or even the Beatles? Surely the ventriloquist Señor Wences or the puppet Topo Gigio would grace the stage. It was Sunday, it was sunny, and all was well.

And then came the bomb. Mom sat me down and explained that she and Dad would be attending a volunteer meeting that evening and that I’d have to chaperone in their stead. Chaperone? I was a fourteen-year-old kid. Whom was I supposed to chaperone?

It turns out that a friend’s daughter, who was attending the local college, wanted to buy her first life insurance policy, and Mom had volunteered our living room for the sales presentation. Unfortunately, since Mom and Dad would be gone, I’d have to hang around. Without my dampening presence, who knows what lecherous shenanigans the insurance agent might attempt? And, as if listening to an insurance salesman wasn’t going to be bad enough, the meeting was to take place during the sacred time slot of the Ed Sullivan show!

When the appointed hour finally rolled around, I squirmed impatiently while the insurance fellow yammered on about “contingencies” and “risk aversion” until I could take it no longer. With one swift move, I slipped unnoticed into my bedroom adjacent to the living room. This put me out of range of the insurance talk but left me with nothing to do. After carefully studying the skin on my elbow for a couple of minutes, it hit me. Under my desk was a large bowl of rocket fuel I had recently concocted and set aside. Now would be the perfect time to turn it from a dry powder into a solid mass by melting it down and then letting it solidify.

I had never performed this operation before, nor did I have the necessary equipment on hand, but I had heard that transforming the powdered fuel into a solid block gave it more stability. I quickly fashioned a Bunsen burner out of materials I found in the bathroom. A Vaseline lid, a wad of cotton, and a couple of jiggers of my dad’s aftershave lotion—and voila! I was ready to cook. Next, I poured a generous portion of the fuel into a Pioneer chemical container that consisted of a cardboard tube with a flat metal bottom and a pop-out metal top. The cardboard would provide me with a safe place to grip the container, while the metal bottom would take the flame and melt the fuel.

Within minutes, I gingerly held the jury-rigged beaker above the Aqua Velva flame and was merrily melting the powder. Sure, I’d be missing Ed Sullivan’s guest star, Richard Burton, as he performed a number from Camelot, but I was advancing science. What could be more important?

Then, with no warning whatsoever, the powder hit its ignition point and burst into a frightening torrent of smoke and flames, scorching the wallpaper above my desk, and burning a hole in the ten-foot ceiling. I couldn’t drop the blazing tube, or it would have careened around the room and set the drapes and other flammables on fire. So, I gritted my teeth and held the flame-spitting cylinder firmly through its entire burn. For a full minute, the fiery tube charred the wall and ceiling while dropping blazing bits of debris on my arms and legs—burning holes in my shirt and pants and leaving behind pea-sized scars.

The rest is a blur. When it was finally safe to set the container down, I bolted from my bedroom and threw open the front door to vent the house. A fire truck loaded with highly animated firefighters rolled into our driveway and it wasn’t long until several of them were screaming at me for being so stupid as to—well, cook rocket fuel in my bedroom. Apparently, not being able to swing their axes or shoot a single drop of water into our home had really ticked them off. One angrily threw open the parlor windows when I asked him what I could do to get rid of the smoke. Another glumly stared at my bedroom and shook his head while muttering, “Boy, are you going to get it when your folks come home!”

And then my folks came home. As the fire crew backed out of our driveway and the insurance salesman and frightened college girl bolted from the scene, Mom and Dad slowly approached. Watching a fire crew pull away from your home is never a good sign when you’re the parent of a teenage boy; however, it did give my folks a hint as to what lay ahead. As the two walked stoically into my bedroom and surveyed the damage, Mom stated, “You realize, of course, that you’re going to have to set this right.” I did. I paid for the repairs out of my college savings.

And then, Mom said something that was so quintessential “Mom” that I’ve never forgotten it: “What did you learn from this adventure?” Most parents, when faced with the smoldering shell of a bedroom would have grounded their careless son through social security. Or maybe they would have hurled threats, pulled out their hair, or perhaps guilt-tripped their soon-to-be-jailed juvenile delinquent into years of therapy. But Mom simply wanted to know what I had learned from the incident. It wasn’t a trick on her part; it was how Mom treated debacles. For her, every calamity was a learning opportunity, every mishap a chance to glean one more morsel of truth from the infinitely instructive universe.

So, I talked to Mom and Dad about ignition points, research design, precautions, and adult supervision. I meant most of what I said. I even followed my own advice and avoided catching any more rooms on fire. In fact, save for one minor screw-up a few months later during a routine rocket test where I accidentally blew off my eyebrows (leading to an embarrassing few days where I was forced to darken my remaining forehead hairs with eyebrow pencil—not cool for a guy in high school), I averted further disasters of all types.

But what I didn’t avert was the bigger message. Mom wanted me and my brother to be full-time learners—ambulant scholars if you like. It was her central mission in life to turn us into responsible adults who learned at every turn. While the masses might bump into the world, take the occasional licking, and then endlessly complain, she wanted us to bounce back with the question: What does this teach us? While others carped about effects, she wanted us to find the causes. Our classroom was to extend beyond the halls of academia and down any path our journey took us—even into the occasional charred bedroom.

The implication of this message to parents and leaders alike is profound. It’s the adult’s or leader’s job to establish an environment where their charges can learn and grow (even experiment) without fear of being grounded through social security. This isn’t to suggest that either the home or the corporate learning environment should allow individuals to run about willy-nilly—heating up rocket fuel without a single thought as to what might go wrong. I had been irresponsible, and I was held accountable. But I had also been experimenting with rocket science, and Mom didn’t want to stifle this part of me. She wanted me to experiment, and this called for calculated risks. She saw it as her job to teach me how to make the calculations, not to set aside my test tubes and chemicals.

So, let’s take our lead from the ambulant scholar. Should our best-laid plans run afoul, may we have the wisdom to pause, take a deep breath, and ask: What did we learn from this?

Thank you Kerry, so beautifully said! : )

P.S. Kerry Patterson has written some wonderful books which I have read. They are worth your time.  Here are a few –

A Mother’s Day Replay!

On Mother’s Day in 2012 my daughters hijacked my blog and gave me a HUGE Mother’s Day surprise. I was reviewing that old blog recently and reread their messages to me. I was again moved to tears at their kind words and generosity of spirit. I never was a perfect person, let alone a perfect parent. But my daughter’s words reminded me of what I weekly work to remind you – our kids aren’t looking for perfect. They want us, with all our flaws and all our love. When we stay the course, do the best we can, and keep learning, IT WILL BE ENOUGH!

Happy Mother’s Day to you all.

A decade has passed, and they have grown so much. Their lives have been challenging and beautiful. I put current pictures in the article, so you could see them as they are now. : )

May 13, 2012

We’ve hijacked our mother’s blog for a surprise Mother’s Day Tribute. We wanted to share with all of you, her dear readers, and friends, how honored we are to be her daughters and what she means to us. We are grateful for your joining us to celebrate our mother and yours.

Kate Houston
I remember one of my favorite things when I was living at home was sitting in our “library” with you talking about our love for books. You taught me to hunger for knowledge.

When I was young you showed me how to make a meal out of almost nothing, how to grow a beautiful garden, and how to REALLY clean. You taught me how to be a homemaker.

The summer I wanted to study abroad in Europe, and we had no money, you spent the whole summer baking cakes and selling water bottles with me. You taught me how to work for what I want and be creative doing it.

When I wanted to be a varsity cheerleader my senior year of high school, even though I had NEVER cheered before, you were right there on the day of tryouts to make sure I stuck it out until the end. You taught me how to dream and dream big.

Growing up you loved to teach us how to make sugar eggs, gingerbread houses, and frosting flowers for cakes. You taught me the importance of cultivating my talents.

When you were in your 40s, you had seven children and an incredibly busy life, and yet you finished your master’s degree. You taught me the value of education.

When times were tough and family life was especially hard, I’d walk past your open bedroom door and ALWAYS see you on your knees. You taught me how to have a relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

Mom, it’s easy for us to look back on our time as a mother and wonder if anything we did gave our children what they needed to be successful in their life. Sometimes we look back and feel discouraged because as far as we can see, what we did wasn’t enough. But it’s the little things, the daily things you taught me that made all the difference. Because you were the person that you were, I am the person that I am today. Through your service to others, you taught me how to serve. Through your example of forgiving and being patient, you taught me how to forgive and be patient. Because you grew and blossomed, like the flowers out back in our garden, you taught me how to grow and blossom.

Now I’m getting ready to take my first steps into motherhood and because of you, I am not afraid. You have already walked the paths down this unfamiliar road and through the wisdom you have gained, you will teach me what it truly means to be a mother. Thank you, mom.

Marie Henry
There are so many things that I have learned from you but there are two things in particular that have forever changed me and how things have gone in my life. The first one was prayer. I remember always walking in on you praying. I knew Heavenly Father was your friend and that you trusted him.

When I decided to come back to the church, I knew what to do. I knew I could talk to Him about everything. That it was okay if I was angry, even at Him, as long as I talked to him about it. That even if I sat there and said nothing at least I was in the right place. I knew I had to build up trusting Him but I trusted you, so I knew I would get there and that it would be okay. The second thing was to never ever give up, that change is possible and that it is very real. That you need not give up hope. There is a way to return to happiness, and it is through Jesus Christ.

The past 13 years have been quite the journey for me and my family. There were times I didn’t think things would ever turn around or feel differently, but then I would pray and get through the day. I knew from watching you that no matter what you don’t ever, ever give up. You continue to fight even if the answer takes years to come.

Now, look where I am at. I finally love being a mother. I feel content and peaceful with myself and how things are going in my life, and I have the greatest man as my husband. There are many things I get to pass on to my children but the two things I continue to tell them about are to always pray, no matter how you feel, and to never ever give up, that Heavenly Father is there for us and no matter what you fight to stay on his side.

I know that one day you were praying, in the kitchen, I believe, and you said to Heavenly Father that we would have all been better off if he had just sent us to someone else. He said to you, that may be true, but he sent us to you. Well, I am proud that he did. I am very grateful to have you as my mother.

Our lives here on earth are meant to have trials in them. I left your home knowing how to make it through and come out the other side being a better me and closer to the Lord. Having fewer trials really doesn’t matter. That I know how to make it back home to Heavenly Father is what I came here to learn and learn it I did. I am grateful for the family I have and PROUD I get to say you are my mother. I love you.

Jenny Johnson
I really love my mother. And it is one of those interesting loves; the bigger the love gets, the bigger my heart gets, and the more it makes me love the entire world. Amazing!

I remember being a child and mom would take all her 7 children with her to the nursing home on Sundays just to visit the patients who weren’t getting usual visitors. It was the family’s volunteer work.

That is how I now kind of define my life. I prioritize (highly) having volunteer work in my life that serves the geriatric population. Also, I just finished the endeavor of earning my master’s degree. I will now start working as a professional in the skilled nursing home to serve the geriatric population with different modes of therapy. I feel so happy and grateful because I know that working in this environment and serving this population is really going to feed my life, daily! She has taught me that despite possibly never bearing children, there is a viable way for me to mother this world! I serve…and it makes me happy. It is how I run my life. This is the legacy my mother has left in my life. An ocean of thanks to you, my sweet mother.

A handful of years ago, when I was in a severe car accident and wasn’t walking, my mother flew to California and took care of me for 4 months. I mean REALLY was taking care of me, as if her 30-year-old daughter was 3 again. Feeding me, cleaning me, helping me move from point A to point B, etc. That was such a wonderful blessing given to each of our lives because what came out of that intimate tragedy was that my mother became one of my dearest friends. I feel so supported, loved, and valued and that, again, strengthens and augments my desire to serve and support this entire world, and it makes me love this world even more. A canyon of thanks to you, my sweet mother and friend.

What my wonderful, beautiful, vibrant mother is teaching me now about being a woman is that personal evolution never stops, and it is never too late to become 10 times more than you have ever been. Beauty, wisdom, self-love, personal manifestation, grand service – these are things I am learning from her and really beginning to value because she is performing these things and becoming these things and mastering these things and it is all so amazing to watch! She is painting such a colorful masterpiece across the canvas of her life. She is leaving such a mark, and I feel so honored and blessed to be a part of it. I love you mom, to the moon and back! A universe of thanks to you for everything.

Jodie Palmer
I turned 40 years old a few weeks ago. It’s sort of a surreal experience for me because it’s the only age that I distinctly remember my mother being. She gave birth to her last child at 40, and so have I. I am now where my mother once was, a place I remember her being.

A fascinating thing has happened now that I’m standing in the shoes, I remember my mother wearing. She has suddenly transformed into something more than my mother. I’m connecting with her as a woman.

It’s been hard to try to put this transformation into words or describe what it means to finally see my mother as a woman. I hate to admit it, but my mother has never been a “real” woman to me. She’s been . . . my Mother. Something different than, “a woman.”

Throughout my life, I’ve been walking these antipodal paths of both discovering who I am as a woman, and consciously putting myself together into who I want to be. But the change that has happened for me is that I am beginning to see my mother in the context of who I am as a woman—this complicated mixture of contradictions and messiness, grace and beauty, vices and flaws, backbone and tenacity, soft and tender places, guarded and hidden places, confusion and wisdom, fullness and emptiness and so much more all wrapped up in one heart.

I find myself feeling so tender towards her, not in a reminiscent way, as is usual for Mother’s Day, but in this current, primal, female, connected, Red Tent sort of way.

As I was attempting to write this tribute to her, I came up with my usual celebrations of memories, the ones that have informed my whole worldview and way of being with the world. Like the time she packed us all into the car to return something that had recently been purchased because we needed the money. On the way out of the parking lot, there was a man holding a sign asking for help. She rolled down the window and gave the man part of the change we had just received. She shared and gave, even when it hurt.

Or the time when she washed the body of a woman who had died and had no one in her life to give her that one last loving honor. She is a rememberer of the forgotten.

There are so many other memories that have served as the elements taken up as food by the beautiful garden of my life.

But, today I want to honor my mother differently than I have ever been able to before. I want to honor her as a woman. I want to honor her complicated, contradictory, messy, deeply beautiful, wise, lovely self. All of it is beautiful to me, and so needed by me, as a woman. All of her is so needed by the world. And the world is better for it—the little worlds of her children and grandchildren, the little worlds of her client families, the little worlds of her neighbors, and the strangers that cross her path. All these little worlds collide together in one big bang of goodness and beauty for all the rest of us.

That’s the beauty of women, we are wombs and birthers of beauty and goodness in the world through the complicated mixture of who we are. We are good for the world . . . And the Lord God looked and said, “It is good.”

I am honored to be a woman born and grown from this woman. I am honored to have her blood and her bone, her spirit, and her heart living in me.

I am grateful for these new eyes that have allowed me to not only see her differently but see my daughters differently. I newly see, and feel, that we are sisters, we are friends.

Again, Happy Mother’s Day to you all.

Love, Dependability, and Trust

  Life doesn’t always go as planned!

When our oldest son was young, he became involved in drugs. Don and I were totally out of our element and didn’t know how to respond. We took a parenting class.

Eventually, Seth, at fourteen, left home and moved to the riverbank for the summer. For the next few years, he was home and then gone again. We tried contracts, and tough love, making him earn back his possessions. If it was out there and we could access the information, we gave it a try. Remember that this was before in-home computers were widely available, so resources were harder to come by.

Eventually, we had three other children become involved in drugs. We faced some challenging things. Kids who came home after curfew. We couldn’t let them in because they knew the boundaries. Those clear rules didn’t make listening to them call out to us any easier. Phone calls from kids late at night who were miles away from home and wanted to be picked up. We couldn’t because they knew the boundaries but that meant a lot of knee time praying for their safety. There were the moments when we, as adults lost it and behaved like children. And then the grief over having to tell friends they couldn’t come to our home because of drug issues. Sometimes we were all the family they had. These were really tough times. 

Our kids didn’t always like us, and we worried about someone dying or going to jail. We had some narrow escapes on both counts. Some parents don’t escape these painful outcomes.

Here is why I am sharing some of the darkness we experienced. I want you to know that even in the darkness if we are doing our best, we are a light for our children. What does that even mean? Let me share a message that I got two years ago from my oldest son, who is closing in on fifty. It filled my heart with peace and gratitude.

“Mom, when it comes to all the kids that hung out at our house, even though you didn’t see it, you were a mom to 150 kids. Our home life was so different than everyone else’s home life. That’s why people liked coming to our house because it was such a safe place. Even though we all had our issues, it was a safe place. I still hear it from so many of my friends. It was that you were a mom. It was a safe and secure place for more people than you’ll ever realize, mom.”

So there it is. Our lives weren’t perfect.

Don and I had a ton of baggage. We were inept at parenting. I have talked about that before. We didn’t know how to respond. We tried stuff, most of which wasn’t helpful. Our kids suffered. We suffered.

BUT here is what I want you to hear, we stayed the course.

We remained loving adults in our children’s lives and unknown to us, in the lives of countless other youth. We were home, and we had dinner together. I read to the kids, not consistently, but enough. We attended church together and went on trips to grandma’s. We went camping. We weeded the garden together and did some family canning. It was all ordinary, no big fancy anything, just plenty of family time.

Don and I made a boatload of mistakes. But we were there. Our kids could count on our being there. They could count on boundaries that didn’t change just because we were tired, angry, sad, or afraid. Our kids could trust us. This is all we really brought to the game: love, dependability, and trust.

I have shared some dark memories. Let me share some of the light from today that lets me know our children are OK. A few years ago, they began having a sibling call once a month. Anyone available got on, and they shared their lives. All seven of the kids made time for this call.

Later it was a video app. We have two video groups. The whole family is on one. The grands see and hear us, and we see and hear them. They see and hear their uncles and aunts. Everything gets shared: grades, holidays, mini-disasters, work, sports, etc. There are always videos to watch.

The second one is for the adults, us, and our children. The talk there is more personal: lost jobs, new jobs, illnesses, relationships, etc. Deep feelings are expressed.

Every other year we gather for a reunion. Rarely does anyone miss. Two years ago, we had to cancel our reunion because of covid. Last year we held it and our breaths hoping that everyone would be healthy and safe. We couldn’t wait any longer. The videos were filled with a longing to be together. On the last day, our youngest son asked us to do it again this year. The ‘yes’ vote was unanimous.

Early last spring, I decided that I needed a shed. I wanted to clean out more space in the garage for my daughter’s family, and well, I am a handywoman, and a handywoman needs a shed! : )

I found what I wanted and bought a kit. Then I headed out to Washington to help one of my daughters. While I was gone, a miracle occurred. I was worried as to how that shed was going to get built. Both my daughter and her husband work long hours. Then there are four kids to take care of after that, one with severe CP. I couldn’t do it alone, and my husband’s physical abilities and health made it impossible for him.

When I returned to Utah, there was a finished shed. Jodie had called Seth, our oldest son, and he took some time off from work, drove ten hours one way, and helped her and her husband, Doug, build the shed. Later, I painted it with the help of my nine-year-old grandson. I call it ‘The Shed that LOVE built.’ I can’t look at it or go inside without feeling loved.

How does that happen when a family is in so much pain and danger for so long? How does it come right? When you stay the course, when you keep parenting the best you can, when you keep learning and growing and changing, well, that is what helps it happen.

It doesn’t matter where you are in your family’s life. It may be a dark place, and you may feel hopeless and helpless. But you are not. Pray for help. Seek resources. Never give up. Stay the course. Be the parent you promised to be when you began, as best you know how.

Be there. Be dependable. Be trustworthy. It can and will make all the difference.

Christmas Past – A Gift of Charity

I wrote this true short story many decades ago for my parents, for Christmas. I was working on letting them know how much I appreciated all they had given me despite the lacks in my family of origin. Isn’t that how it is in most families. Our parents can only bring to their parenting what they have and they add to their skills as they go. Being the first child, I experienced some of those lacks but as I grew, I also saw my parents grow. Anyway, I wanted them to know how grateful I was.

I posted it on my old website way back in 2011. I can’t believe that ten years have gone by! I wouldn’t have thought to repost it this year except for an unusual happening.  I was asked to submit a Christmas story for an anthology, which I did. I submitted this story.

I have to say that it doesn’t match most of the stories in  Tis the Season: A Christmas Survival Guide. The stories are not the magical kind we usually read about but are filled with tales of the chaos and sometimes hurt that accompanies the holiday for many. I don’t know why my story was chosen as it is peaceful and loving. It is also the final story in the book. I suppose it was becuase I ended it with ‘Merry Christmas.’ : )

At any rate, it caused me to think again about this family happening and my parents who were doing their very best for me and my siblings. I thought it might bring some treasured Christmas memories to your mind at this season of family and Christ. I hope you enjoy the read, the heart, and the generosity of both parent and child.

Christmas Past – A Gift of Charity

A true short story, written by Mary Ann Johnson years ago when her children were young, and she was remembering.

black and white photo of little girl smiling
Mary Ann, almost five, see the buttons!

THE HEATER MADE a steady hum as it singed the small bits of pine I had placed on top. I’d never seen a heater like it until we moved into the new house. It was brown, shiny, and huge. It wasn’t as homey as Grandma’s Ben Franklin, but it was warm and didn’t create clinkers, for which I was grateful. The pine was Mother’s idea. She liked the smell the needles gave off as they slowly turned brown.

I was five years old, and Idaho Falls was cold and windy. Inside, it was warm and cozy. There were six of us, and the house was small. I saw it years later and small was a generous word for it. At the time, it seemed perfect.

Christmas was coming, and as always during that season, the sewing machine was humming away. Pieces of black velvet and red taffeta littered the floor. I noticed the buttons first, the most beautiful buttons in the world, shiny white with rhinestone centers. Those buttons were a treasure sewn on a cardboard square. I would have paid at least a quarter for them, a vast sum hidden away in my bank.

But the buttons weren’t for sale. They were going onto elegant dresses that my sisters and I watched take shape until I could hold back my curiosity no longer.

woman smiling picture
NaVon, our mom, a mere 23 years old.

“Mom, are the dresses for us? Can we wear them?”

“No,” she replied.

Who else would they be for?

With patience, mom explained that there was a family who needed help making Christmas special. We had so much, she said. She ticked our blessings off on her fingers. I remember the empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had never had a beautiful dress like that, never a dress with buttons that shone like stars.

As the days passed, the emptiness in my stomach was being filled, for as my mother sewed, she poured into me a feeling of gratitude for blessings received and a spirit of giving. She made me a co-conspirator. I cared for the baby, played quietly, and picked up those lovely scraps so she could continue to sew.

Soon the dresses were finished and gone. The gifts of love had been delivered. Then my mother began pouring charity into the empty place that the actual departure of the dresses left.

“Now girls, when we go to church, you’ll see those dresses on three other little girls. Don’t say a word. We want them to feel happy and proud. This is our special Christmas secret. Remember that it’s important for people to have dignity and be happy.”

We three, Cindy, Shirley, and I, turned our young faces to her and beamed. We trusted the words of our mother. We knew we could keep the secret. I had a feeling of joy in my stomach. Emptiness no longer lingered there.

Christmas night was torture. Every child has felt the pangs of anxiety: will the doll be there, the train, the blocks? Every child has felt the excitement. How can I wait? How can I sleep? Sleep stayed away for a long time.

It was still dark when we raced to Mom and Dad’s room. They arose slowly—too slowly! — finding slippers and waking the baby. Then there was the interminable wait as Dad lit the tree and turned up the heat. Finally, we were free to run pell-mell into an ecstasy that would last all day.

three sisters smiling picture
Shirley Kay, Cindy Lu, Mary Ann

What? I stopped short. There they were among the gifts: those buttons attached to black velvet and red taffeta dresses. What a surprise and joy.

As I sailed into church later that day, I was wearing a prized gift, but the most precious Christmas gift I received that season was carried in my heart: gratitude for what I had, the love of sharing, and charity for others. This gift, given to me by my mother so many Christmases ago, has made all the difference in the quality of my life. Thanks, Mom!

Also, a thank you to my dad, who is now gone. He made wonderful toys with his own hands. We had them for many, many years, and they delighted all nine of us children.

baby cribs picture                  cupboard pictures                 toy horse picture

Merry Christmas!

My Magnificent Gift

I received a gift on my Birthday

that I want to share with you, but first, I want to share a portion from the introduction of my book, Becoming a Present Parent, because it will help you appreciate the beauty and value of the gift.

“As a young woman growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, I didn’t contemplate any other occupation than motherhood. It was so much a part of what I expected to do that I didn’t give it much thought. It was what everyone did. I looked forward to it. I expected to sail along, doing what was required in the best way possible because I was made for it. It never occurred to me I wouldn’t know what to do and how to manage.

 

Raising my family was “the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” These words from the Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities describe my parenting experience rather perfectly.

 

Don and I didn’t talk much about family and parenting before we embarked on this grand adventure. He was the second child of two children, and I was the oldest of nine. He assumed I knew what I was doing, and I thought I knew what I was doing. We never discussed how we would discipline, how we would manage chores, meals, vacations, schooling, the budget, etc. Frankly, it didn’t occur to us we might not agree on everything, that we might not have all the information we needed. After all, we were in love, we shared the same faith, and parenting is what everyone did. It couldn’t be all that complicated.

 

But it was complicated!

 

Don and I had seven beautiful and amazing children, four girls and three boys. I recall with great fondness camping, fishing, sewing, cooking, crafts, Christmas, Thanksgiving, dance recitals, band concerts, baseball games, wrestling competitions, and speech contests.

 

I remember the fun we had: breakfast on the tailgate of our old pickup truck at the park, a block from our home one early Saturday morning; quiet conversations with whichever child’s turn it was to help me weed in the early dawn hours; canning while lots of kids snapped beans and peeled carrots; reading to our children; dinners together, a daily occurrence; bath time; night time cuddles; sitting together at church, filling a whole pew, while tickling backs and squeezing shoulders. These were memorable and satisfyingly ordinary days. These were the best of times.

 

I also have seared on my mind the struggles we shared as a family of nine—a husband who traveled for a living, drug abuse, premarital sex and a child born out of wedlock, thoughts of suicide, failure in school, smoking, alcoholism, lack of belief in one’s value as a person, quitting school, abandoning the church, a mother who raged and yelled, managing feelings of despair, and coming to terms with same-sex attraction. These were the worst of times.

 

When it’s all shaken together and poured out, how did we fare? Well, far better than we expected or than you might expect. Don and I had done just enough right, and with a full measure of the grace of God thrown in, we all survived and, strangely enough, thrived. We all live fully functional lives. We’re connected and bonded in unique ways. We look out for one another, and the kids support and lean on each other. We’re still a family! 

 

The story of our family is the story of an imperfect family. You won’t and, frankly, can’t do everything right. Your children will struggle as they grow. You’ll work to do all that’s required in your chosen vocation of ‘parent.’ It’s part of the process of being human, of being in a family.”

 

This year, I received cards, letters, and a few videos from my children for my Birthday. Each one gave an example of something I had done that made a difference in their lives. I was surprised at some. I hadn’t realized that they were paying so much attention to my efforts to grow, change, and be better. But they were.

 

 I want to share the contents of one gift I received, a video from my oldest daughter, Jodie.

 

“Mom, I am so happy to celebrate you. This morning, I was thinking about my mothering, the worries and challenges I face, and the potential regrets that I am thinking about already. Then I thought about where we are now, and I felt a deep sense of peacefulness that the story and the arc of family and parenting are long. I feel so grateful that you are our mom and that we get to celebrate you. I’m letting that gratitude steep in my heart today. Happy Birthday, mom.

 

Can you think of a more generous, more moving gift than words like these? As I have said many times, if we give it all we’ve got, learn a little here and a bit more there, and then implement, if we remain consistent and speak kindly to ourselves as we change and grow, then it will be enough. We will give our children the legacy of watching another human being engage in the process of becoming better. There isn’t much that we can provide them that is more powerful.

 

Here is something I do not share lightly.

During the years that our family struggled the most, I was despondent one day. As I washed dishes I thought about what a terrible job Don and I had done and were doing. Tears fell from my eyes. I looked heavenward and said out loud, “You should have sent these kids to another home. They would have done better.” Then clearly into my mind came these gentle and peace-giving words, “I knew how you would parent and that it would be enough.”

When you begin berating yourself for how imperfectly you are parenting, STOPwords matter. Your words to yourself matter the most. They will make it easier or harder for you to let go of old baggage, come up with solutions, find the resources you need to garner new information and get better at what you do. So, speak kindly. Be gentle. Give yourself charity, knowing that if you stay the course and keep learning, changing, and growing, it will be enough. It will! I know because in my family it has been enough!

Never quit. Never berate yourself. Keep working on you and loving your children, and it will be enough!

Who do you know that could use the comfort of knowing that it will be enough!