Holding Hamsters, "Onions", and Grudges- Part Deux

So most of this is a reblog from my Easter post from last year. I was going to write a new one… until my beloved middle son (the same one as below!) pulled another ‘easter surprise’ for me a few days ago- and the feelings were so similar to this time last year that I figured I’d just add the story to this one (feel free to check out the original post here!). That boy sure knows how to show me Jesus… lol. But let’s start with what happened last year…

(April 2018) Over the Easter weekend a tremendous and long-awaiting event occurred at the Douglas house. Jake came to visit us for the weekend! My sons in particular had been looking forward to this time together since last fall when we heard that there was a chance he might come visit. Since then almost every weekend came the expected, "Is Jake coming this week?" So, after many months, the special visit arrived. We picked Jake up after school on Thursday, settled him in his cozy little room at the house while both boys busily made plans for the long, 4-day weekend. Before long, all 96 hours of the Easter weekend were lovingly and thoroughly planned for Jake and our family. Quite frankly the first 20 hours were spectacular. Jake fit in with the family wonderfully, participating in all the kid's activities, eating what we gave him, and generally being quite pleasant. Our visit was going swimmingly.

Until he disappeared.

Or rather, I should say, until my 4-year Jonah old let him out of his cage....

And just like that, Jake the hamster was gone. The class pet, the children's Kindergarten mascot, who I was ultimately in charge of keeping, well... alive.... was MIA.

Before I knew it, my generally low-key, tidy world (I write this with the caveat that I have 3 children under 6, a dog, and a cat <who's role in this story will soon become apparent>, so take "low-key" and "tidy" for what you will...) was turned upside down. Instead of making dinner, I made non-lethal hamster traps (Google it, it's a thing). Instead of cleaning my house, I searched my house. And quite frankly I was irate. I was furious. Not that the hamster was lost necessarily, I was angry that my son (who we had already caught messing with the cage multiple times) had disobeyed me once again. I was 1003% O.V.E.R. him!

Me, who is used to high energy, high adrenaline, high trauma work... was seeing RED at my son's defiance. I was fuming. I called my husband, telling him to prepare himself for my mood and <his> child when he got home. I prepared for a long night, praying for a miracle; reasoning that it was Good Friday after all and surely if Christ could take the sins of the world upon Himself than certainly He could find and restore a rodent back into his cage. (Yes, my prayer was actually and literally that I would wake up and find little Jake happily and safely back inside his quarters... I know, I know... one can never accuse me of thinking or praying small!)

Fast forward to Saturday morning and Jake was found. Actually our cat Fievel was the one who discovered him and brought him to me like a good cat should. I, rather, found more specifically pieces of him. All over my bathroom floor. #goodmorningtome

I would have been mad except I literally don't think my anger from the previous night could have gotten any higher. I was legitimately perhaps the angriest I'd ever been at one of my children. The fallout from his decision to defy me continued on and it was not lost on me how much of a headache this visit was turning out to be. It was totally lost on Jonah though- he seemed to not even remember how or when he had opened the cage, only that he had. And though very sorry to see the bits of Jake all over my tile floor, he clearly hadn't made the connection that it was his disobedience that caused the hamster's untimely death. It was infuriating that I couldn't make him understand, and though he is only 4, I found myself resenting the ensuing expense and time to find another flippin' rodent, the embarrassing text to the teacher about the situation, and generally living down what, for anyone else that's not in the situation, is a hysterical story (the humor was not lost on me.) I resented him for it. Jonah could do nothing to fix the situation or even help it... an acknowledgment of guilt would have been nice at least. I was still angry.

Until my husband told me what had happened the previous night at church.

While I was busy (read: frantically) searching the house, christian-cussing under my breath about spending Friday night looking for a missing hamster who wasn't even ours... my husband had taken Jonah to a Good Friday walk-through at our church. I'm pretty sure it was more to ensure the tot's safety from my wrath than for his spiritual sake, but nevertheless at the end of the walk-through, having learned all about what happened to Jesus before and during his crucifixion, there was an opportunity to nail sins or burdens on a life-sized cross. When Gabe ask Jonah if there were any sins he needed to tell Jesus about he apparently replied, "I lost Jake." And taking a way-too-big hammer with a fresh nail, he nailed that black piece of paper his daddy had written his little sin on to the cross.

Que: massive mom-regret and a wee bit of self-loathing...

I was hit with a tidal wave of conviction. 24 hours later and I hadn't forgiven him yet, I was still dealing with the fall-out of his sins and disobedience and I desperately wanted him to understand what he had done.

It doesn't matter Bethany.

He doesn't understand anymore than you do of what sins you've committed. He and you don't need to... that's for Me to deal with, just as you are for him.

He asked for forgiveness. I have forgiven him.

You need to as well.

Fast-forward to several days ago and Jonah hit again. I was out in the yard, bemoaning how much yard-work there was to do before the mowing could commence, when I discovered a random flower bulb laying in the yard. Hmm… that’s interesting I thought, wonder where that came from. I continued cleaning up sticks when another wayward bulb appeared in front of me… another.. and then another. I looked up from my work towards my flower bed to discover that every. single. bulb. had been yanked out. ALL of them. I mean the entirety of my beautiful spring bulbs had been unceremoniously dumped onto the ground. In this garden, around that tree, in the front beds…. A.L.L. of them.

I flipped. I didn’t yell, I didn’t scream, I simply fell to the ground crying hot angry tears. I was done. Capitol D O N E done.

Now let me take a step back. I love to garden. I’d do it a lot more often if I got the chance. But it’s not like a live and breathe flowers. But we had just taken in a new, medically-complex foster kid, a backlog of work and appointments had been piling up in the interim of our transitioning her to our house. My mom-schedule (as all are) is tighter than a toddler’s mouth trying to feed him green beans. I had no extra time to replant dozens and dozens and DOZENS of bulbs. (Did I mention he pulled every.single.one?? Cue that christian cussing again.) Something inside broke a little bit. The recent days of my life had been those kind where nothing comes easily and everything takes 15 times longer than it should.

This day had just reached the “you have GOT to be kidding me!” phase.

Somewhere in the blur I ascertained that Jonah and a friend had pulled them all thinking they were onions. Knowing that onions ‘would make the flower garden smelly’ they took it upon themselves to correct the impending oderous problem.. In the moment, somewhere in my mind’s eye I acknowledged that to be a relatively fair deal. They weren’t being malicious… just curious and impulsive little boys (also in my minds-eye… curiosity killed the cat… but I digress.) I didn’t have the strength to deal with it- so I did what all professional moms do- I left the situation to dad.

I didn’t go to bed mad that night. I went to bed down. I went to bed sorrowful that I couldn’t seem to catch up and now (like it matters) all my beautiful flowers that I was so looking forward to enjoying would miss this season (they may even miss next spring and the next… because let’s be honest, it’s not like i’m going to make the 5-year-old replant them and I certainly have no time to right now.) It wasn’t a big deal. In the grand spectrum of eternity it didn’t matter at all. But it was the proverbial straw for me that day. And I wept bitter tears of exhaustion, sorrow, and not a little bit of discouragement.

The next morning, my blue boy knew I was still depressed. So, he did what this child does best- he picked me a flower. A big, beautiful, yellow tulip plucked out of the yard as his peace offering. It soothed my soul to see his little eyes peering up at me and that huge smile on his face as he told me that “this will make you feel better mommy!”

God is good to us. Even when we’re behind and running to catch up. He’s sees our shortcomings, our sorrow, our mourning of even the smallest things like pulled up “onions”. I think He must smile down lovingly, perhaps with a slight Fatherly smirk now and again as His children try so desperately to ‘help'.

And for those times when we royally but innocently mess up, His arms and smile open wide. Much like mine were when I found out that my tulip was the only one in the entire yard that (had) remained….

Holding Hamsters and Grudges

Over the Easter weekend a tremendous and long-awaiting event occurred at the Douglas house. Jake came to visit us for the weekend! My sons in particular had been looking forward to this time together since last fall when we heard that there was a chance he might come visit. Since then almost every weekend came the expected, "Is Jake coming this week?" So, after many months, the special visit arrived. We picked Jake up after school on Thursday, settled him in his cozy little room at the house while both boys busily made plans for the long, 4-day weekend. Before long, all 96 hours of the Easter weekend were lovingly and thoroughly planned for Jake and our family. Quite frankly the first 20 hours were spectacular. Jake fit in with the family wonderfully, participating in all the kid's activities, eating what we gave him, and generally being quite pleasant. Our visit was going swimmingly.

Until he disappeared.

Or rather, I should say, until my 4-year Jonah old let him out of his cage....

And just like that, Jake the hamster was gone. The class pet, the children's Kindergarten mascot, who I was ultimately in charge of keeping, well... alive.... was MIA.

Before I knew it, my generally low-key, tidy world (I write this with the caveat that I have 3 children under 6, a dog, and a cat <who's role in this story will soon become apparent>, so take "low-key" and "tidy" for what you will...) was turned upside down. Instead of making dinner, I made non-lethal hamster traps (Google it, it's a thing). Instead of cleaning my house, I searched my house. And quite frankly I was irate. I was furious. Not that the hamster was lost necessarily, I was angry that my son (who we had already caught messing with the cage multiple times) had disobeyed me once again. I was 1003% O.V.E.R. him!

Me, who is used to high energy, high adrenaline, high trauma work... was seeing RED at my son's defiance. I was fuming. I called my husband, telling him to prepare himself for my mood and <his> child when he got home. I prepared for a long night, praying for a miracle; reasoning that it was Good Friday after all and surely if Christ could take the sins of the world upon Himself than certainly He could find and restore a rodent back into his cage. (Yes, my prayer was actually and literally that I would wake up and find little Jake happily and safely back inside his quarters... I know, I know... one can never accuse me of thinking or praying small!)

Fast forward to Saturday morning and Jake was found. Actually our cat Fievel was the one who discovered him and brought him to me like a good cat should. I, rather, found more specifically pieces of him. All over my bathroom floor. #goodmorningtome

I would have been mad except I literally don't think my anger from the previous night could have gotten any higher. I was legitimately perhaps the angriest I'd ever been at one of my children. The fallout from his decision to defy me continued on and it was not lost on me how much of a headache this visit was turning out to be. It was totally lost on Jonah though- he seemed to not even remember how or when he had opened the cage, only that he had. And though very sorry to see the bits of Jake all over my tile floor, he clearly hadn't made the connection that it was his disobedience that caused the hamster's untimely death. It was infuriating that I couldn't make him understand, and though he is only 4, I found myself resenting the ensuing expense and time to find another flippin' rodent, the embarrassing text to the teacher about the situation, and generally living down what, for anyone else that's not in the situation, is a hysterical story (the humor was not lost on me.) I resented him for it. Jonah could do nothing to fix the situation or even help it... an acknowledgment of guilt would have been nice at least. I was still angry.

Until my husband told me what had happened the previous night at church.

While I was busy (read: frantically) searching the house, christian-cussing under my breath about spending Friday night looking for a missing hamster who wasn't even ours... my husband had taken Jonah to a Good Friday walk-through at our church. I'm pretty sure it was more to ensure the tot's safety from my wrath than for his spiritual sake, but nevertheless at the end of the walk-through, having learned all about what happened to Jesus before and during his crucifixion, there was an opportunity to nail sins or burdens on a life-sized cross. When Gabe ask Jonah if there were any sins he needed to tell Jesus about he apparently replied, "I lost Jake." And taking a way-too-big hammer with a fresh nail, he nailed that black piece of paper his daddy had written his little sin on to the cross.

cross-300x225.jpg

Que: massive mom-regret and a wee bit of self-loathing...

I was hit with a tidal wave of conviction. 24 hours later and I hadn't forgiven him yet, I was still dealing with the fall-out of his sins and disobedience and I desperately wanted him to understand what he had done.

It doesn't matter Bethany.

He doesn't understand anymore than you do of what sins you've committed. He and you don't need to... that's for Me to deal with, just as you are for him.

He asked for forgiveness. I have forgiven him.

You need to as well.

Ugh. Just like that, once again my kids show me the face of God and in that light the current unflattering state of my soul. If God can forgive then I certainly must as well. No grudges, no resentment, no record of wrongs.

Well... maybe a blog about that time our cat ate the Kindergarten class hamster... which, let's be honest, will live in internetland forever.

Ragged Around the Middle

This last week has been hard. I mean HARD! No, nobody died, I didn't lose any limbs, the house did not burn down, and all our pets and houseplants are still alive... and  yet, I feel like I've been beaten on the inside with a baseball bat. I am tired. No- I am exhausted both emotionally and spiritually. I may look okay on the outside, but man! I am ragged in the middle! I am goo on the insides.

I probably should have seen the potential for a bad week on the horizon. After all, I came off an incredible spiritual high in Houston over the weekend at a Beth Moore conference (#LPMLIT). The Holy Spirit was so palpable there, I had such a soul-renewing experience. I felt that God and I worked some stuff out and He just poured lavishly into me. It was wonderful! My parched soul got some much-needed God balm.

I should have known when I fell sick on the way home on Sunday that there were thunderstorms in the distance. I got home and spent the next day with a high fever and was pretty sure I had been run over by a truck. Two of my 3 kids were sick as well, and between them all they managed to pass the ick around to each other for the entire rest of the week. Just when one got over it, the next one took up the puke baton. I've spent more time cleaning up vomit (on light carpet no less, insert sad face..) than I can remember in recent memory (and I'm a nurse!).

Both my boys decided to go ahead and go through baby boy puberty this week as well. My oldest fell head-long  into "I am 5, hear me roar, I don't need you, I won't obey you, I will personally do everything in my power to make your life miserable" mode. Awesome. He's like a tiny bull in my china closet- and, much as I hate to admit it, he did a lot of damage to my psyche this week. The middle kid, who is going through "I am finding my independence, I don't want help with anything, my brother is trying to kill me, I have all these new emotions that I don't know what to do with so I'll just cry ALL the time like a pre-pubescent teenage girl". I am telling you, I literally have PTSD from his cry right now.

My daughter continues to have some pretty serious GI issues with not being able to keep food down. We have a specialist appointment scheduled and it cannot come soon enough. The poor baby can't help herself but she is a hot, sticky, smelly mess more often than not.

Whew! They are exhausting. And, full disclosure... I really don't like my kids right now. I love them, they are mine and I suppose I'm responsible for them, but my love bank is going on empty with them during this particular season. It's just the truth, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. They are just so HARD right now.  I know I'm not alone and I know I'm not the first mom who has seriously considered sending her kids to a boarding school in Antarctica... indefinitely. (I'll send them birthday cards.)IMG_9190

Perhaps what is really the kicker for me is I feel there is no small part that I've played in this. Their behavior can only be (at least partially) due to my parenting skills- or, lack thereof. Ouch. It's a hard pill to swallow and one that goes down with no small amount of shame, frustration, discouragement, ire, guilt, regret, and anger. At myself. I am so bad at this at times!

I'm their mom, I desperately want them to be successful and happy, obedient and respectful. In short, I want to raise normal human beings who I don't constantly fear will spontaneously combust with sin. Is that too much to ask?

Right now I'd give myself a solid C- in this parenting assignment. I'm sure there are those who would say that I'm being too hard on myself, but I'm admittedly frustrated. So, because I'm a writer, you get to share in my vent. I'm at my wits end with my boys, and my heart hurts for them, over them, and because of them. This parenting stuff is difficult and not for the faint of heart!

I don't have any reality-shifting insight into this. Except to say that once I get over this emotional muscle-soreness, then it is on like Donkey Kong with my boys. I won't be outwitted, outwilled, or outwiled by two kids that combined don't weigh as much as my left leg.

A few lessons I'm leaning on:

  • I am reminded hourly how much I need God's help and wisdom in this season. He is a perfect parent, so I can't go wrong by committing this way (again and again and again) to His direction.
  • I am sobered by how my kid's behavior is a reflection of my parenting. It makes me think on how my behavior reflects on my Heavenly Father's parenting. Am I an accurate representation of Him?
  • I realize that as much as I want them 'normal', that they are exactly that- they are sinful little heathens that need Jesus. Their behavior is nothing less than what is to be expected. They are as normal as normal can be.
  • So, going off of that, I DON'T want them normal... I want them exceptional. I want them different than others. I want Jesus for them. I want more for them than what their own little fallen nature can offer.
  • I am very much looking forward to the end of this season, yet need to remain resolute in hashing it out day to day while we are in it. As much as I want to throw up my hands, throw in the towel, take up chain smoking, and punch a wall (let's be honest here), I know that I am called to more and better. These little sinful aliens wrapped in adorable child costumes do need me, and need me to show them better. So I'm required to step it up. I need to model Jesus more and better- consistently and regularly, intentionally and with passion.
  • I am not naive to the fact that I am battling for my kid's hearts and souls with Satan. He's fighting for them as well. This ALONE is motivation enough for my endurance...
  • I am grateful for God's gentle patience with me and His guidance through this.IMG_9192

So, without a victorious closing paragraph, today Mom I just want you to know that you're not alone. Momming is difficult and it downright sucks at times. We don't have to like our kids all the time. I'm giving us permission to dislike them occasionally. It doesn't change our love for them, but it's a more honest take on this thing called motherhood. We're not perfect and that's okay. God is perfect and as long as we're leaning on Him, we'll be good to go.

On those super hard days and season, lean harder into Him. Or, as I heard Beth Moore say this last weekend, rather kneel down in front of Him- this will get you praying instead of fighting and ultimately out of the way for God to clock your kids Himself. Let their Daddy take care of it!

ChristmasFail

Holidays are hard and wonderful all at the same time. The Christmas season is perhaps the pinnacle of possibilities for stress and (un-needed?) hustle and bustle. It's amazing how God will use this time to knock us between the eyes sometimes. You know, those spiritual 2x4s I love to talk about. I was thusly knocked out this last Sunday, by none other than my own eldest son... who's temper tantrum (x2!) was a new and wholely out-of-character occurance that had both Gabe and I questioning our parenting abilities. He had gotten initially in trouble for trying to play with his cousin's and brother's toys. He'd been kind of 'stalking' them pretty much all day. Upon being corrected, he promptly totally lost it.

In short, Jesse finally told us he "hated" his "stupid" toys. There was nothing to "play with".

Ouch...

Total MomFail! Total ChristmasFail. I was simultaneously heart-broken that he would have such a horrible attitude of ungratefulness, extremely angry that his flippancy was so immediate and complete, and somewhat personally saddened that he didn't seem to enjoy anything that I had lovingly hand-picked out for him.  Total FAIL- for SO many reasons.

After his second complete, screaming melt-down (again, totally out of character for him- which further confounded us! This parenting stuff is HARD!!) both Gabe and I attempted to talk/beg/reason/threaten some sense into him. We spoke of kids all over the world that don't have as much as we do and how we need to be thankful for what we do get- even if it's not exactly what we wanted. We threatened to take all the toys away (which he was totally unbothered by and actually started packing them up... ), we prayed with him to ask Jesus to show his heart how to be grateful, etc etc. For a solid hour we worked through this issue with him. Seemingly to no avail. It was stressful to say the least. I was not bothered as much by the melt-down as I was about his heart.

Because Jesse is brilliant, he is charming, he is witty and way too smart for his own good. He has a very strong sense of justice and rightness, and more often than not when he argues he has totally valid points. He also has almost zero empathy. It's something we saw in him (or NOT in him) early on. It's something we've had to intentionally and very purposefully pray and teach into him. He's getting much better at it (and I have no doubt that God sent his baby sister, Anna, with Down syndrome to personally help teach him patience, acceptance, and empathy,) and I have no concern that if we continue "training him up in the way he should go" that he'll be a might, kind, gentle man of God. But it's taking time and energy and a ton of prayer.

But back to Christmas night. I was really, REALLY alarmed by him. It completely took all the wind from my holiday sails and I became consumed by thinking about what we needed to do with him, for him, to him... you get the idea. He was clearly extraordinarily frustrated- with the situation, with my not understanding his point of view, with not understanding my point of view. I was super frustrated as well- it seemed no amount of talking it over with him would change his mind. But we ended the night with prayer, for all of us, and he went to bed.

Later that night, as Gabe and I spoke over what to do, it occurred to me that what Jesse was frustrated about was, in fact, somewhat legit. Upon thinking back on what he actually received for Christmas, the kid got 4 toys (3 of which were outside/summertime toys), several games, and the rest was homeschool related or clothing. The <extensive> list he had written out to Santa was woefully unfilled (he got only 2 things from it). Throughout the day he had been asking to play with his toys and we kept telling him they were outside toys only and he couldn't go out. The couple of times he tried to recruit people to play games with him, we all said no.

The poor kid had been trying to play all day. And I had set him up for failure.

Ugh! I felt even more terrible. He had been trying to play with his toys, he wanted to play with his toys, and I wouldn't let him. So when he got in trouble for stalking other's toys, his little sense of justice was beyond what it could bear. He's only 4 so trying to convey this particular injustice was more than his heart could explain. Suddenly I got it.

Not that his tantrum was acceptable at all. It wasn't. Yes, he did have one toy that was easily played with inside. And it's not at all about how many or what kind of toys we get (all of which we are slowly teaching our children..) But we understood finally what his initial motivation was and what he had been trying to tell us.

I think he was (as all children tend to be) a bit disappointed that there was so little asked for that he actually received. It came out afterwards that he was questioning if he was on the 'naughty list' because of this! Furthermore, the little guy needed toys he could play with- he saw everyone else happily playing with their toys and and try as he might, he had none to play with. Mostly because I wouldn't let him, or wouldn't play with him. Ugh!

It occurred to me, once again in much Christmas glory, that I am so woefully unequipped for parenting sometimes.  I am not a perfect mom and I never will be. My only prayer is to not screw them up too bad! Next year's Christmas will be different- not in the toys or amount of gifts... rather in the preparation, in the knowing my children and their needs, and in continuing to try to walk them in the path they should go. Lessons were learned, for all of us, and for that I'm grateful.

I am the most grateful that our Heavenly Father is a bit more qualified parent me. He doesn't set us up for failure (even by accident!), He doesn't not know the best way to teach us a lesson, He doesn't not have any idea about how to handle our disobedience or shortcomings. He is the Good Father, the Best Father, the PERFECT Father.

And I really love that as my Heavenly Father, he gives grace and covers my own imperfections as a mother. Thank you Abba for that!