Finding Joy in the Mess

Upon exiting the library yesterday morning with 4 kids in tow, I almost did a leap of joy in celebration of an uneventful trip.  This was my second trip to the library where I felt it was a “normal” experience.  It involved browsing the aisles while the kids played in the children’s area.  I’m not always in sight, but the twins now know I’m not far away and they have settled into the routine of going to the library to pick out books, movies, CD’s, and toys.  Sigh.  Finally.

To inflate my sense of success even more, a lovely woman commented as we exited about the lovely crew I had.  It is nice to feel the admiration of strangers. All this basking in our success came to a screeching halt on our walk back to the van when Ethan says, “Mommy, there’s puke coming out of my bum.” Oh my.  There it was.  Diarrhea dripping down the left leg.

Okay. Back into stress mode.  First step was to find a baby wipe to clean off his leg and assess the situation.  He assured me he didn’t need to go to the toilet, so instead of going back inside to the washroom ( I didn’t really want to meet that nice lady again), I decided to clean him up with new underwear and pants in the van. These are the times where my van assumes its role as “place of refuge.” “Alright, kids, ” I hear myself say, “let’s just get back to the van and everything will be ok!” (For those of my friends sitting on the fence about a van, think about the diaper changes and clothing changes you can do when these situations arise!)

Meanwhile, Cor has eyed the crackers in the diaper bag he wasn’t allowed to finish in the library because it was time to go.  He decides to throw a hissy fit because I zipped up the diaper bag, keeping him out of reach of the desired snack.  So, Ethan has to wait in the dirty pants while I deal with Cor’s outburst of anger.  I did end up giving him the crackers.  We just needed to get to the van without causing anymore attention to ourselves.

So, crisis was resolved in the van with clean pants and cracker snacks.  Another job well done by this mama.  Stress was elevated, but not over-the-top this time. I did have to laugh at myself.

Who am I kidding?  Drama will follow me wherever I go for a long, long time.


Recently,  some of my new mom friends and I were swapping book recommendations on breastfeeding and sleeping and parenting.  I was able to give some suggestions on the books I read before the birth of all my kids, but I find myself reading less and less about babies and more about different kinds of issues.

Lately, I’ve taken books out on discipline, emotional health, and a play-based approach to stress and anxiety in children.  I feel like I should be awarded a psychology degree with all the reading and practicum I will have completed after the raising of these kids. I’m realizing that the issues get bigger as the kids get bigger.  It begins with feeding and pooping and sleeping.  When we’ve tackled those BIG issues, we move on to harder ones: bullying, anxiety, self-worth, faith and academic success.  My situations in public involving poop are relatively insignificant in terms of problems that can happen in the life of a child.

I do admit, I’m a book reader.  If I have questions about a topic that interests me, I find a book about it.  I try my best to put the advice of doctors and counselors I resonate with into action, but more often than not, I feel like I’m failing my kids because I can’t quite remember all the steps.  And, more often than not, I let my own emotions take over any logical and sensible advice I’ve received from the professionals.  All too often my frustrations and weaknesses and feelings of inadequacy take over and the principles from the book go out the window.

This week I found myself crying in the kitchen while the kids were having quiet time.  I was feeling overwhelmed because I wasn’t feeling well and the kids weren’t feeling well.  The house was a disaster.  Again.  I just tidied the day before, vacuumed floors, mopped the kitchen floor and as I looked around, the evidence of all that was gone.  Long gone.  I wondered how a person was to stay sane when their surroundings were in utter chaos all the time.  Often in these moments, I remember the advice I got from my aunt Wilma after my first baby shower.  She said, “and don’t worry about the house.”

I try very, very hard not to worry about it.  But I do worry about it.  All the time.  There’s never enough time or energy to keep it the way I think is decent, even for a family of 7.   I know I have 5 kids, but I don’t like living in a mess.  Yes, I do get everyone to pitch in and clean up the mess, but we are living with 2 toddlers who leave a path of destruction wherever they go.  They get into everything: toothbrushes, flossing picks, combs, hair elastics, CD’s, Tupperware, all toys of all kinds, puzzles, laundry, clean diapers, clean clothes from drawers, books, etc.P1120685 So, as I’m sitting in the kitchen feeling miserable, I stumbled across a blog that makes me break down and cry.  Her blog is called Finding Joy and her post is: 10 Things Happy Moms Don’t Do. The part that hit me like a ton bricks was this:

4. Base success on the state of the home. So tough, really, but true. When you have kids in your home your home will probably look like you have kids living in your home. You can have it spotless at 8am only to look like you never clean ever by 8:15am. Kids do that. Do what you can. Keep it clean. But, you know, kids like to dump stuff out, mix paints, color on things, and create things. And that? That means a mess often. Your success isn’t based on the throw pillows always on the couch, nor is your happiness.

I feel I was basing my success on the state of my home. I think I was raised that way.  Clean home equals successful wife and mother.  I struggle with letting things go a bit so I can spend more moments enjoying the kids instead of cleaning up after them.  I wish I could sit in a messy house with the kids around and I am perfectly happy. I know I can’t let everything go, or it would be really bad around here.  But I do need to be more patient in the messy moments.  Because as my husband reminds me, I will get it cleaned up eventually.

There will be moments of mess. Whether it is puke, poop, toys or toothbrushes.  I’m pretty good at dealing with the immediate crisis of body fluids in public, but not so good at the mess of life behind closed doors.  I’m working on that.

Life is a work in progress.  I won’t get everything perfect. I can’t find all the answers in a book.   And I should stop counting on perfect trips to the library. Most importantly, I’m being reminded daily I can’t do this mom job on my own strength.  Sometimes a crack in my “I’ve got it all together” is a healthy reminder that I don’t have it all together.  Not without God’s hand in my life.

For God’s hand is what gives me strength when I need it most and God’s word comforts me when I struggle to feel at peace in the midst of my mess.

 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

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A Legacy of Love

During a morning in April,  during our Coffee Break discussion of The Best Yes, Lysa Terkeurst encouraged us to think about our legacy.  She guided us in thinking of our legacy as something “we build over a liftetime-an accumulation of generous, selfless, quiet choices that honor God in the midst of a day.”

The questions directed us to think of someone who has left (or is leaving) this kind of legacy to us personally.  Instantly, I thought of my mom.  She left an amazing legacy that I am proud to recall.  I didn’t mention it to the group that morning, because I didn’t trust my emotions and I wasn’t sure exactly what things about her I would call “her legacy,” but I now want to explore further here, on this blog, as to what kinds of things I think about daily/weekly about my mom.  I want to share some of her legacy and how it impacts me today.

As I go about my day, I think a lot about my mom.  Some days more than others, but many of the things I do remind me so much of her.  My mom was also a stay-at-home mother during the preschool years of her children.  Her and I share similar interests and skills.  Here are some of the memories I have of her when I was growing up.

My mom was hard-working.  I can appreciate now the hours of work she put into a day at home.  I remember her sitting at the sewing machine working on her latest project; I remember her baking up a storm as I tried to watch fuzzy TV with the mixer bellowing loudly in the kitchen (fuzzy TV was caused by the mixer); I remember her working in the garden during the summer after I had gone to bed (I watched her from my bedroom window), trying to get weeds pulled or watering plants before the daylight ran out for the day; I remember her canning many jars of fruit and freezing multiple bags of beans from the garden;  I remember her baking treats for the men who came for coffee after being out in the fields baling hay; I remember her cleaning windows, scrubbing the frames and using a shammy to wipe away streaks on the glass until they shone; I remember her washing, wiping, vacuuming, scrubbing, sweeping indoors and outdoors; I remember her cooking delicious meals and sometimes concocting dinners she called “invention night” from the ingredients she had in the fridge and pantry; I remember her hosting neighbours and friends for parties and gatherings.

Although my mom worked hard and put in long hours, I do remember her taking time to rest.  After breakfast, she would sit and have her tea.  She took a morning and afternoon coffee break (to eat something lekker, of course).  She had a 15 minute nap in her chair every afternoon.  Yup, she worked hard, but she needed her breaks too.  Sometimes when the guilt settles into me if I lay down after lunch while the kids have their quiet time, I remember my mom did it too and I never once thought she was lazy.  I know it leaves me feeling refreshed and ready to tackle my chores once again.

Jonathan asked me a few weeks ago if my mom played with me a lot.  I replied, “no, she was always working, so I either played nearby or I “helped” her with her chores.  I remember being very content as a kid.  I played a lot by myself even though I had 4 other siblings.  My next sibling, my sister is 5 years older than me, so she was already in school when I started to play around the house.  I have very fond memories of playing on my own, but my mom always close by.  Yes, I did get lonely at times for friends my age, but I got plenty of social interaction with church friends and friends at school once I enrolled.

Later, my mom told me she regretted she didn’t play with us kids more, so I often think of that when I want to push the kids aside to finish up dishes or laundry.  This is one way she passed down her experience.  She told me openly about her regrets.  I take this regret to heart when I hear myself telling the kids I can’t read a story or do an activity with them because I have chores to do.  Yes, chores are necessary, but more often than not, I can stop for a brief time and spend a moment doing an activity with the kids.

Yes, I do remember my mom working hard, but the legacy I am most proud of in my mom is her love for people.  She was a vibrant, sometimes loud, joyful, talkative woman who loved to share stories about herself, her day and her family.  My mom genuinely took an interest in the people she interacted with.  My friends often comment on how they loved coming to my house because of my mom.  She chatted with them like they were her own.  She made them feel important.  My mom often told me how cashiers ended up telling her their life story in the brief minutes she spent in their company.  But she made the first move by going beyond the “how are you today?” and said something unique to them that opened the doors for a meaningful conversation.

My mom was involved in helping people.  She led Coffee Break, Sunday School and Calvinettes at our church for many years, but eventually she moved into the  broader community.  She started out as a Palliative Care volunteer where she visited with individuals dealing with a loss of a loved one.    She led a cooking class at a local Youth Detention Centre and guided these young men by teaching them an important life skill.  She drove a school bus for the local public school for many years, but she really took an interest in the kids on her bus. They were important to her and she cared about them very much.  My mom eventually got a job as a Parent Resource Visitor for the Huron County Health Unit.  She was amazing at her job.  She had first hand knowledge as to what it felt like to be a young teenage mom.  She cared for the young woman she visited who had little support or were in difficult circumstances.  Sometimes she even put her own safety at risk to help these young mothers.  She was able to set up a fund through the deacons in the local Christian Reformed Churches to get food vouchers for these struggling families.

My mom demonstrated what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.  She went out of her comfort zone to help her community.  She used her out-going, personable and loving personality to show others the love of Christ.

This is the legacy that is important to me.  To demonstrate to this broken world that someone cares enough to spend their time helping them is what matters.  I want others to feel the love of Christ because I showed up that day to lend them a hand, to drop off a meal or to have a meaningful conversation.

Right now, I’m limited in the service I can provide to my wider community.  But this love begins at home.  My children are watching me everyday.   As I noticed what my mom did, they notice what I do and what I say.  I want to honour God in my behaviour not only toward others, but also toward my children (and my husband).  I want to push away my impatience and selfish need to do my own thing and spend the time with them they crave.  The attention I give my children and the attention I give to becoming more Christ-like in my actions is one way I can build my legacy.

For now, although my children are still small, I can enjoy the meaningful conversations I have with them while we explore the outdoors, while we chat for a minute before the kiss goodnight, while we prepare a meal together or while we simply sit together on the couch.  I can take time to be present in the moment and not distracted by the many things trying to pull me away from what’s most important.  Someday, my kids will remember I did this and will want to pass on this kind of love to their own families and communities.

This is a legacy worth leaving.

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Willem meeting his Oma for the first time. December 2008

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Willem and Mommy May 2015.