Monday, December 11, 2017

Love


I have been focusing on kind, compassionate love, starting with my children. It seems as though this might be an easy task but I would argue that this is more difficult than it sounds. The love I have for my boys is unconditional. I want the very best for my kids. I want them to enjoy being children, and my wish is that they grow into caring, compassionate, kind adults. I want them to grow through play, but also through slowly accumulating responsibility. I want them to learn to be self sufficient but to know when to ask for help as needed. There is a fine line to walk. I want them to live with love and joy but also to be respectful. This can often lead to the perception that we are "hard on them", expecting them to listen, to follow directions, and to make good choices while being kids.

There were evenings when I would go to bed feeling defeated. I felt like I'd spent the day battling with my kids. Days, when I had raised my voice too many times, when I felt like I was at the very end of my patience and spoken much too harshly. When I stepped back for a moment, I realized most of the things that were so frustrating to us all were because of my response to the situation. That was a shameful revelation. I am the adult and I do love them like crazy. How could I be speaking to them in a way that I wouldn't talk to anyone else? Speaking to them in a way that, if someone talked to me, I would be crushed. The guilt that brought on was devastating. This was NOT okay.

So what was causing the escalation?
1. The boys didn't understand what I needed them to do.
2. The boys didn't understand the relevance of the things I was asking of them.
3. I was losing my patience because of choices the kids were making without taking into consideration that they were making age appropriate kid decisions. Kids are not perfect nor are adults. Helping kids learn to make safe and appropriate decisions is very important but expecting them to make decisions using adult thought processes is ridiculous. My seven year old does not have the capacity to make the decisions of a 35 year old man (it could be argued that 35 year old men don't always make great decisions but I digress) and my 4 year old cannot make the decisions that his big brother can work through.

Scripture is my husband's world, not mine. I know, I know, it is accessible to everyone but I tend to get overwhelmed by it all. I often feel like because I don't know the history or the context, I won't understand the meaning. As I said, this is P's profession and gift and it's no secret that I often seek  both God and spiritual inspiration and fulfillment in other ways and places.

That being said, I began to think about some words that are frequently quoted, "Love is patient. Love is kind." That's it. Simple. Straightforward. It happens to be half of 1 Corinthians 13:4 but that is not the point. The point is

Love is patient.
I am love.
Love is kind.
I am love.

I am practicing loving kindness in words and actions and I am starting in my own home. I would say that our house was already filled with love but I can feel the shift this has made.

It seems so easy but it does take some discipline for me. When all I want to do is lose my cool, I stop for a second to think about my perception versus what is really happening. For instance, this morning I told Micah 212 times to get his brand new, fancy, blue winter jacket on for school. I tried being nonchalant, asking gently, demanding, explaining, lifting him to his feet to put it on him, and letting him put it on himself. During this exchange he turned to Jello, dropped to the floor, and had a meltdown. He deteriorated from whining, to crying, to howling. We were now late for preschool and my patience was hanging on by a very fine thread. I felt like I was one second away from shouting at him in anger. Micah doesn't respond to being yelled at (which is true of most kids). He cries and digs in his heels. I know this. We've repeated this problem a hundred times.

Pause.

My perception - Micah is being completely obstinate. Doesn't he know that he is going to freeze in his sweatshirt and shorts while he is in his nature classroom this morning? They spend an hour outside and it is 28 degrees. We are already 15 minutes late to school. Grrrrr. I hate being late. I bought this expensive jacket and he won't wear it because he's being ridiculous and ungrateful. I've asked him a a hundred times why he doesn't like it and he just won't tell me.

The reality - Micah is 4 years old. The coat is new, a little big, and doesn't feel like his old one. He has always been sensitive to clothing and is very opinionated about how things feel. He is unhappy and doesn't have the language to tell me exactly what the problem is. He can't see how putting his coat on will help keep him warm for the next 60 minutes. He doesn't understand seasons. He believes that because it is sunny out, it must be warm. He has no concept of time and so "being late" has no meaning for him. He has no concept of value and so doesn't understand that the coat was expensive and that he is lucky to have a warm coat that fits. He just knows that he feels the most comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt. He also has very little control over things and this is something that he can express his will about.

Un-pause.

In that brief moment, Micah's behavior has not changed. My perception, however, is different and therefore my reaction can be adjusted. I let go of the time constraints. It does not matter if he is late to preschool. If we take the time to address the concern today, over time, this situation will get easier and we will likely be able to reduce the time it takes to get dressed and out the door. I can't change the fact that he doesn't like how it feels but I can adjust the clothing under the coat to try and help him feel better. I can't change that he doesn't understand the season and the weather but I can shift the focus a bit. I had already taken him outside to show him how cold it was, time for plan B. I pulled up the weather app on my phone and showed him that the "temperature" was "in the 2s" (28 degrees). I told him that if the first number was in the 1s, 2s, or 3s it was long pants and warm jackets and if the first number was in the 4s, 5s, 6s, or 7s he could wear shorts and a sweatshirt.

I'm not actually sure how much of this he understood but something clicked and he agreed. Under protest, he chose his own mittens and whether he wanted a hat or his hood. I agreed to carry his backpack, which is usually his job and we were out the door.



Don't get me wrong, he was still upset, grumpy and dragging his feet on the walk but the end goal was completed. He was at preschool, in the appropriate attire for outdoor play, and it didn't take me losing my patience with him. Was I frustrated? Of course. Was he upset with the outcome? Likely, but when I picked him up from school, he was happy and dancing around. When love is practiced in this way it also demonstrates respect. Respect for the way each person perceives a situation and respect for people's individual differences.

photo courtesy of Vance Briceland

All of the little win/wins add up. I wake up with determination to be a mom and wife filled with love that is patient and kind. My goal is to be able to lay down at the end of the day with patience still intact and satisfaction that my family knows how much they are loved. That they are loved beyond measure through both my words and my actions. My hope for them is to shine this love and respect into the world in their own ways.

Photo courtesy of Jamie Collins

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A momma's revelation


Last Saturday afternoon we loaded up the crew and headed to rugby practice. My oldest wanted to try rugby this year and we agreed. After his first practice, my middle guy decided that he wanted to give it a try too. He mistakenly thought that he was going to get to tackle everyone left and right. The next week we took everyone to practice and M, the 4 year old was hesitant about participating. We encouraged and prompted him and he did play a bit. This went on for a couple of weeks. At the most recent practice, M had a melt down before we got to the fields. He is opinionated, demanding, and a bit defiant. He tends to like a good disagreement and can be impossible to reason with due to his personality and his age. I sent E off to find his coach and when I looked back, my husband was carrying M who was stretched out stiff as a board, in his arms whimpering. I traded the content baby in the stroller for the unhappy preschooler (not a great trade) and carried him towards his team. Still doing ok in the parenting department up until this point, or so I thought.

I sat down in the grass near where his team was warming up. He sat on my lap with his "mad face" and watched. Here began the downward parenting spiral. It started out innocently enough. I asked him to go play with his team, I told him to go over and stand by his coach. I then proceeded to beg, plead, demand, bribe, punish, and nearly cry. He wanted nothing to do with rugby. Now, to be clear, I don't care if he plays rugby. It was expensive but that wasn't the issue. In the Collins' home, if you sign up or agree to something, you see the season through. It was principle at this point.

And then I stopped. I took a breath and then another. My tactics weren't working.


So I asked him, "M, what could I do to help you feel better right now?"

And do you know what he said?

He said, "can you stay with me?"

Cue the broken heart. "Of course buddy. Let's go. Are you ready?"

Keep in mind that these are 4 and 5 year olds. It's about 80% herding cats and 20% learning rugby. I ran up and down the sidelines. I cheered, sent M huge smiles and thumbs up after each activities, gave hugs when needed, and helped to interpret the directions given by the coach. I realized that he really doesn't like to feel like he doesn't know what is going on. I had thought that he was upset by being tagged or caught or missing passes originally. Although this is true, it was more that he didn't like to be disoriented or confused about what he was being asked to do.

He got through the practice with very few tears and even managed a couple of smiles. I had promised a lollipop and 15 minutes on the iPad in my desperation which I made good on when we returned home.

I promised him I would stay with him next week and he agreed to practice.

Often it takes a moment to look at the situation from a different angle. Instead of trying to figure out what a kiddo needs, sometimes we can ask them. Kids are smart and although the communication bit can be tricky, it's always worth a try. Sometimes kids know exactly what they need. We just have to slow down long enough to listen to them.




Sunday, June 25, 2017

Kona


Kona Collins
May 6th, 2006 - June 14th, 2017

As many of you already know, we had to say "bye soon" to our sweet Kona girl last Wednesday. She had a swift two week decline that seemed both fast and eternally slow. I agonized over this decision but on Wednesday there was no question that it was time to say goodbye. Just 10 days earlier she had been running with me each morning and then she was gone.

Patrick and I got Kona and her brother, Brick, from a breeder in Blair, NE on July 6th, 2006. They were 8 weeks old. The plan had originally been to bring one puppy home and to take back Patrick's Brittany that had gone to his parents when he went to grad school. Several things happened to change this plan.  A.) his mom fell in love with Roxy and wasn't about to give up the companionship and B.) there were two pups left in the litter, one boy and one girl. The girl was the runt. She was tiny and had an umbilical hernia repair done... twice. They were so sweet and we just couldn't take one without the other. This turned out to be the best decision. They got along great. They were constantly taking things back and forth from each other and so there was very little puppy destruction at our house.




Patrick and I had been married for a year when these two sweet pups joined our family. They lounged on our bed, sat on our laps, rode in the trailer behind Patrick's bicycle. He was working at a church in Omaha at the time and they went to work with him each day, roaming around the youth room while he worked. They had us wrapped around their little paws.


At about 6 months old, I had them at the dog park in Omaha while Patrick was working on bikes with the youth group. Kona managed to step on something and cut her paw wide open. We ended up at the emergency vet clinic for stitches to two layers of tissue as well as the artery that she severed. It was quite the adventure as I was trying to apply pressure to a gushing, bloody, puppy paw, drive a stick shift, and figure out where the clinic was. She was wrapped up to heal and send home with instructions to keep the paw and the stitches dry... and then it snowed about 8 inches. Sigh.

Recovering from the anesthesia

Trail Sisters
As they grew, we walked and walked and walked them. At 6-7 months we started doing short runs and soon, they were full time running buddies. Kona was my trail sister. She trained with me for over a decade worth of races, including triathlons of all distances from sprint to half ironman, running events including 5 and 10k, half marathons, full marathons and ultra marathons. She even snuck into the track with me a few times and did track workouts. We ran trails, pavement and crushed limestone. She ran in as many states as I have and saw the prairie, lakes, streams, woods, back country fields, dirt single track, country road, and city trails. I did my first run without her this week and there was a big gaping space where a cute little puppy bum should have been. 

At the lake!
In Sept 2010, E joined our family. Bringing home a new baby to these two dogs was no problem. They loved that he spit up all over and they hid in our room when the crying became too much to tolerate. Emmett called Kona, "na-na" and the name stuck.

Emmett and Na Na
Thanksgiving 2011 we had our house on the market and due to a mistake by the Realty Company and their hired photographer, both dogs got out of the fenced in yard and were hit by a UHaul truck on a busy street. I stumbled across the accident on my way home from work. Brick had died instantly and Kona had a terrible brain injury and a few abrasions. Thousands of dollars later, with much thanks to our vet and the emergency vet clinic (thank you Thanksgiving weekend), she recovered. There were agonizing moments when we weren't sure what to do. We were grieving the loss of one and trying to make financially feasible medical decisions for the other. We brought her home and nursed her back to health. We fed her soft food with a spoon, held up her water and rigged up a towel to help her walk. We have video of her first independent steps following the brain injury. She was back to running with me 8 weeks later and trained for 2 ultra marathons after the incident.

Immediately following her accident at the vet clinic.
Patrick visiting Kona for the first time after she was hit.
Soaking up some rays on the back porch on her first day home.
Kona survived three toddlers and a drive across the country. As a friend said, "she got you all transitioned to Connecticut".

Kona and Micah
I keep expecting her to be laying on my bed when I come in the room. I feel like she should be under foot when I am cooking and making peanut butter. I miss her when I run and when I lay down to relax in the evening. Her favorite spot was to be curled up between my knees and feet. She liked to lay on the bath mat when I was in the shower. I keep catching myself telling the boys to push their uneaten food away from the edge of the table and I have had to sweep the floor 30 times because there is no canine vacuum cleaner.

The last days were awful. She spend one night at the vet clinic for lyme tests, blood work, and chest xrays. All normal.  The vet recommended a veternatiry neurologisy in New York but it just wasn't feasible. We brought her home on broad spectrum antibiotics, anti nausea and a probiotic. We never figured out what happened, why she got sick. Feeling so helpless. She seemed glad to be home but still she didn't wag her tail once. She had quit eating. I could coax her to eat a spoonful of peanut butter here and a few tablespoons of applesauce there. She was drinking water voraciously (maybe due to the medications we tried unsuccessfully). I carried her up and down the stairs for fear she would fall and get hurt and because she just wasn't steady enough. I lifted her on and off the couch, covered with a blanket, so she could rest in her favorite spots. I cuddled her up and let her lay her head on my lap. I took her outside and put out a blanket so she could soak up the sun, one of her favorite things. And I cried, hoping she would rebound.

Snuggling with momma in her very favorite spot
Finally, I called the clinic and asked for an appointment. Such a long day. I sat with her while the sedative made her sleepy and I sat with her while the injection was given. I was there when her soul left her body and I felt such sadness and yet an overwhelming sense of presence. I am so thankful Patrick let me take her to the appointment by myself.


See you again sweet girl. 



Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Mom Guilt



One night a few weeks ago, I had all three boys lined up in the bathtub. It was the tail end of the day and I was tired. The three year old had been tough on his momma the majority of the day. The baby had been fussing and crying for 2 hours and had been suffering from all the symptoms that come along with teething. The two oldest had been bickering, screaming, and fighting since we picked Emmett up from school at 3:00p and Patrick had been out of town for a few days. I finally said to them, "I'm over this day."

To which Emmett replied, "but mom, you don't know what tomorrow will be like".

Cue the tears, and the mom-guilt, and the shame because he was absolutely right. That day had the privilege of being able to take care of three healthy, relatively happy children with all of the resources necessary to do so. We don't live extravagantly but they have shoes, clothes, food, a comfortable house, and more than enough toys, books, and puzzles.

I know mothers and fathers who have lost children to cancer, accident and acute and chronic injury. I would wager a guess that many of those families didn't think to themselves, "tomorrow, life as we know it will never be the same."

It is as true as it it cliche, every tomorrow we get offers new experiences, good and bad. Experiences that change us.

We don't know what tomorrow will bring and so I will do my best not to wish away the days. I want to be present with my family. I practice yoga each day and part of the yogic philosophy is to just BE. Be present in the moment, be yourself, on and off the mat. It is certainly a practice but isn't it interesting how children are so naturally good at this. Emmett intuitively knew that we should appreciate today because after it is done, you can't get it back. You can't go back to the person you were yesterday morning and hopefully you wouldn't want to. A perfect reminder.

So, I took three centering breaths and I told him he was, most certainly, correct. I made a decision to let go of the guilt and the shame and enjoy the last moments of that day with the three of them. Mothering is far from easy and never the picture-perfect way one may imagine but there are so many possible moments of joy and delight mixed in with the chaos. My hope is that my boys can look back on their childhood with happy, content memories and learn to enjoy the present moment. Oh, and cook one really good meal and scrub a bathroom with the best of them, but I digress...

Namaste



Thursday, May 25, 2017

Giving Children Roots and Wings

Sometimes I think of the intricacies that we moms (and dads) know about our children. Things that only we can know.
 
I know (sometimes) just what they will eat and won't eat for lunch. I know the oldest one wants his sandwich without cheese (always). I know that the middle and youngest like bananas but my husband and the oldest won't touch them (ever).

I know their language. I know that  middle one calls butter, "honey" and waffles "bagels". Which means that if he says he wants a bagel with honey, it either means a waffle with butter or a bagel with butter so you have to ask the follow up questions. I know that "pumpkin" means a sweet dessert after a meal. I know that when the littlest says "eh" and reaches for the sky, he wants me to look at the airplane or when he says "fla-er" he wants to touch the flower. 

I know that the oldest gets car sick, the middle needs to change his shirt if he drips a single drop at dinner and the baby screams when he is lifted in the air overhead. I can tell you that the oldest hasn't seen more than 6 movies all the way through because they are "too scary" and three of those are now off the list as well.



I am sure that my mom could tell you things about us as children. We would tell her "we are going to ride that one way" and she would know which loop we were going to take on our bikes. I am sure she knew which shirts we would wear and which ones would sit in the bottom of the drawers. She knew (and still knows) which foods I loved and which ones would be a battle, and let me tell you, there were many, many food battles. She knew which books we would choose for her to read over and over and many of those favorites are still on her bookshelves.

Moms and dads are the only ones that know so many things about their children.

And then they go off to school. He's nearing the end of Kindergarten and his teachers know so many things about him that I don't. I remember feeling so very strange the first day that I dropped him off at preschool. It was the first time in his life, and in mine, where I didn't know what he had done for every moment. Up until that day, he had spent every moment with either his dad and/or myself, or one of his grandparents. I could ask and know exactly what they had done. For three hours, three times per week he was "on his own" and he grew as a person. I trusted his preschool teacher and he learned and learned and learned.

Then 4 days after we moved to a brand new city, I dropped him off for his first day of Kindergarten. And you know what? He grew some more. Most days I can't get two words out of him about what happened during the day. I ask "the questions" that are supposed to elicit responses. I. Just. Want. To. Know. Something.... Anything.

Radio Silence.                            Crickets.

And so I gave him the space, to grow and change, and be his own guy. It puts a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes to think about it.

And every now and then, when we are walking to school or I am laying with him just before bed he will tell me something. A little tidbit of one of his days. I love those moments and look forward to many more.






Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Mother's Blessing on Ash Wednesday

Today is March 1st and Ash Wednesday. The pastors at our church, FCCOG, tried something new this morning. They stood out in front of the church and performed blessings and the distribution of ashes. They called it "Ashes to Go" and it was quite successful for a first year venture. (Good job guys!) In a community where many people commute by car and train into New York City, time is of the essence and efficiency is valued. In addition, the simple act of a touch and a prayer can change a day, but I digress.

We walk to school each morning and we stopped by for a "to-go" blessing from dad on the way to school. My 6 year old was anxious about having ashes on his forehead for school. I could see that he was worried about hurting his dad's feelings. He didn't want them on his head (he doesn't like to be dirty) but he didn't want his dad to be disappointed in him. I received mine and in the end, he balked and decided he was not interested. About halfway down the driveway of the church, he wavered. I told him this was his last chance to run up and have dad do it for him. He said a teary, "no thank you." About 20 yards later, he was still visibly upset and I asked him if he wanted me to do it. He looked confused but said, "sure". With traffic whizzing by next to us, I rubbed my thumb against the mark on my forehead and I said a quiet blessing and made the cross just below his hairline. I took a picture and showed him what it looked like. It was a light smudge of a cross on his little forehead. He nodded and walked on.

As we walked, I pushed his brothers in the double stroller and he and I talked. He was worried his dad would say, "what? You let your mom do ashes but not me?" That began a conversation about blessings. We talked about how a mother is always allowed to perform blessings for her children. How people can bless others every day. It can mean doing something nice or just smiling at someone, using nice words, or being kind. I told him that every day when he goes off to school, I chant a Sanskrit blessing for him and each of his brothers. I do three for each boy. I began doing this with encouragement from a yoga teacher/mentor/friend, Jessie. I sang it for him this morning "Aad Guray Nameh, Jugaad Guray Nameh, Sat Guray Nameh, Siri Guroo Dayvay Nameh." I visulaize protection, love, happiness, and health surrounding my child. I see it as a colored gentle breeze or wrap enveloping them. I told him that I send it to him in my mind. I explained to him that moms hope good things for their children and that is just like a blessing. I reminded him that ashes that touched my forehead and then his were very special.

And then we returned to discussion of the construction of the train station, the names of the pizza places in town, how many fire trucks fit in the local fire station, and why people put flowers in boxes in front of their stores. Daily, comfortable, ordinary questions from a kindergartner. 

"From dust you came and from dust you shall return."

There is something there that I can't quite articulate. Emmett is an actual part of me. He is half me and he carries my heart with him. Our family jokes that he and I share a brain. He is also a child of God, an overused cliche that felt so true in that moment. I felt like the combination of my thumbprint (both metaphoric as well as literal), my love, the ashes that were transferred from my forehead to his, and the love of God wrapped this little boy in a safe blanket.

There are some who may frown upon  a lay person performing this type of sacrament. I don't apologize, not for a second. An opportunity for a beautiful moment with any of my children is always welcomed, whether through prayer, blessings, play, exploration, or quiet moments just before bed. I soak them up and hope my boys do too.

Namaste

 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

To those around us in church

This is an open "thank you" to those that sit around us in church.

Thank you for your patience with us. We are a lot. We are three young kids and one mom in a pew because dad is up front in a robe or in the pulpit.


A few things upfront...

- We believe in keeping our children in church. They only learn how to behave if given the opportunity to practice.
- We believe in letting them go to Sunday School if they want to go.
- We believe in letting them decide when they are ready to go to church school or if it is a day they need to be near their mom. Kids are smart and only they know how they feel that day.
- We believe in teaching our boys how to sit respectfully in church. That being said, we also understand that they are 6, 3, and 1 years old and sometime it is hard to sit quietly.
- We believe in leaving the sanctuary if necessary, in order to maintain a certain atmosphere for others in worship.
- We don't allow screaming and crying, tantrums, or disrespect.
- We believe that some Sunday mornings just aren't going to be successful church mornings. The best way for kids to to learn to behave is to put them in situations where they can be successful. (Thanks for that lesson mom!) If someone is sick or I can feel that the energy is really stirred up, I believe that asking them to sit in church is just not an option.  Luckily, my husband respects my decision to keep everyone home if I feel it is warranted. We love to be in church, we love to listen to dad preach, we love to sing and take communion but there are mornings where we just can't make it. 


Thank you for your understanding. I do the very best I can to keep everyone happy and meet everyone's needs but sometimes I miss the mark. Sometimes, someone is fussy or out of sorts. Sometimes, someone can't keep their hands to themselves or for that matter, their feet, knees, or tongues off of their brother. This can cause a momentary ruckus.

Thank you for your ability to focus, despite our wiggling. Last week my 12 month old cruised back and forth on the pew smiling and cooing at everyone behind us. My three year old stood facing the pew looking at the hymnals and drawing on the bulletin but he was quiet. The six year old was oddly still, sitting and listening and taking in everything. We try not to be too distracting but I do know that sometimes people have to pay attention around our busy family.

Thank you for your flexibility. Sometimes, we have to do things a bit differently. My boys love to run up to the front of the church and look at the communion table or stand in the pulpit like daddy. We are continually seeking out the line between reverence and comfort in the church. I often stand in the aisle (off to the side) with the littlest. That sweet boy has never liked to sit and we are often able to squeak out a few extra quiet minutes if we are standing and doing the mom-sway. I almost always bring a whole apple for each of the older boys. They get it when the sermon starts and it gives them something to work on, keeps them from talking and keeps them from tussling. *Note that wipes are important if this is your tactic. I realize that this is unusual and sometimes food in the sanctuary is frowned upon, but thank you for understanding why I choose to do this.


Thank you for your help. Thank you for playing a game of peek-a-boo with the little ones and for picking up dropped, well, everything. People have handed us crayons, Hot Wheels, baa baa, slimy spoons, bulletins, blankies, you name it. At Patrick's candidating weekend, the senior pastor's wife handed us back, a previously mentioned, sucked on apple. This was the first time I had met her. Talk about brave. Thank you for helping me watch one of the big boys when someone has to run to the bathroom, for letting one or both of them sit with you in the pew, for making sure the oldest gets to Sunday School and picking him up afterwards, for zipping up jackets and tying shoes. Often I just need an extra set of hands for a quick task.

Most of all, thank you for loving our boys despite their noise, energy, mess, and enthusiasm. They ask to go to church and love to see everyone.

Signed,
Parents of the preacher's kids