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Presents of Joy – My Reflections on the Sandy Hook Shooting

Friday morning I took the morning off to wrap presents for Christmas. I had just finished wrapping for the morning when I heard the news about Sandy Hook Elementary. So maybe it was due to my morning activity or maybe it was my mind shielding me from considering the real weight of this tragedy but I kept thinking about the presents that will go unopened this Christmas. The presents that will sit under the tree and remain untouched throughout the day. It sounds so superficial I know, but my mind kept coming back to those presents.

This year, my three-year old son is getting a new bike for Christmas. His current bike is a hand-me-down from his older brother. He has ridden it faithfully since last summer and never complains but the truth is he’s too big for it. I can’t wait to see him on Christmas morning when he sees his brand new big bike. There is a little pouch in the front, perfect for collecting odds and ends that he’ll discover along his travels. Best of all, it will be new and it will be his. I can already imagine the joy it will bring in the months to come as he transitions out of training wheels and begs to ride farther and farther down the street.

As parents, we anticipate these moments of joy in our children. They are not limited to birthdays and Christmas and gift-giving. We hold these presents in our hearts and cannot wait for when our child will unwrap these moments of joy. They are the moments in parenting when we understand that all the nagging and whining and fighting is worth it. Those moments seem so insignificant and far away when our children are unwrapping these presents of joy: reading his first book, scoring the winning goal, showing off her prize-winning art project, opening the college acceptance letter he was waiting to receive. We then imagine them as adults unwrapping more adult-like presents: getting their first job, getting married and having kids of their own. Each moment of joy is like a present being unwrapped in our hearts.

Last week our family went to a winter carnival. At one point the five of us found ourselves riding a ferris wheel together. My husband and I sat on one side, the three kids were on the other. We got to the top of the ride and the kids were so excited. Pure joy is the only way to describe it. I will never forget my husband’s words,

“Remember this. Remember this moment. Look how happy they are.”

They had just unwrapped a moment of joy. It was kind of unplanned, the carnival was an afterthought to another activity we had just concluded. I hadn’t anticipated this little present that they would unwrap. But here we were, experiencing a moment of joy and it was wonderful. I quickly snapped a picture so that the memory of their faces would never fade in my head.

When I heard the news about Sandy Hook Elementary, I kept thinking about the parents of those students and the presents of joy they will never see their kids unwrap. My soul aches as I think of the many presents of joy belonging to those children that will remain unopened. Trophies that will never be won, trips that will never be taken, memories that will never be made. The bright futures that were lost in that tragedy. I cannot imagine that loss as a parent. My prayers are with the victims’ families, the surviving children at the school and the entire community. I’m sure the weeks and months to come will be unimaginable. No one should have to go through what those parents and kids have had to go through Friday.

Hug your children every day. Thank God for them every day. Tell them you love them every day. Every day.

And one last word of advice about those presents of joy. Don’t store all of them up waiting for the perfect moment. Give joy and give it freely.

The post I didn’t want to write.

I didn’t want to write this post. For weeks, I told myself that I didn’t need to write it. But I’ve been blogging for over a year now and what I’ve found is when I blog about something, I can make sense of things and find the silver-lining in a situation. So it’s time. It’s time to write about something I haven’t wanted to write about for quite sometime. I’m going to warn you, it’s not about committing to a hairdresser or catching worms. Today’s post has a bit of a different tone. I hope that you’ll hang on until the end. The purpose of this post is not to bum you out. It’s not to throw a pity party for Susan. It’s a way for me to sort my thoughts and heal.

My son loves my husband more than he loves me. I know this because he lacks the developmental skills to know that he’s not supposed to have a favorite parent. Instead he tells me that he loves Daddy more than me on a regular basis. I realize that he’s three and three year-olds say things they don’t mean all the time. Except that they are also brutally honest. They don’t sugar-coat things to spare someone’s feelings. That’s why I try to be strong when I enter my son’s room to read him his bedtime story and he exclaims “No, I want Daddy to read to me.”

In some ways his words are the easiest expressions to deal with. Of course he’s going to say he likes my husband better than me. My husband is the fun parent. He has all the patience. He sneaks them candy when I’m not looking. I’d like him better than me too.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s one thing to say he loves his dad more, but deep down he doesn’t mean it. There are other ways to express love. He loves him more in those ways too. When my son falls and skins his knees, it’s my husband’s kiss that will make it all better. When he wakes in the middle of the night with a bad dream, he cries out for his daddy. When he had his tonsils out, awoke from anesthesia, was groggy and needed a parent to hold him for two hours before he could be released, it was my husband who got to hold and comfort him in the comfy chair. Meanwhile, I sat in the uncomfortable chair usually reserved for dads and watched as child after child came out of surgery crying for his mom. How does it feel to be the second place parent? Sit in the cold, hard “dad chair” for two hours and you’ve got a pretty good idea what I go through on a daily basis.

It’s not that he doesn’t like me. It’s not that he doesn’t hug me. It’s just that I’m not his preference. And being the open and honest kid that he is, he’s very upfront about this. If you’ve ever spent time with a three year old, you know that they are particular. Good luck trying to get one to eat a graham cracker that has the tiniest broken corner. My son is the same way when it comes to my zipping his coat. When he’s in one of his “my way or no way” moods, daddy is the only approved helper.

Quite possibly the only thing worse than being turned down for my husband when he’s around is being turned down for my husband when he’s NOT around. There are nights when my son will sit in his bed crying for his dad and there is no act of comfort I can give him that will calm him down. A hug from me will not do. A kiss from me will not do. No cuddles. No tickles. I am simply not his dad.

Second place sucks.

It shouldn’t suck. I should be happy for my husband. I should be happy that a little boy can love his dad so much. Many children aren’t close with their dads, how fortunate that my son has such a close bond with his. How lucky am I that I have such an amazing husband that built such a bond with my son. I could got on. There are many reasons why I should be happy about this situation.

But the truth is, it sucks.

It sucks because when my son falls off his bike and starts to cry I want to hug him. I want to hold him in my arms and tell him he’ll be okay. I don’t want him to scream and say “Don’t touch me, I want Daddy!” It sucks because when I plan a fun outing with just my son and me I want him to be excited and jump for joy instead of saying “No, I want to do that with Daddy!”

It sucks.

It sucks because I’ve convinced myself that I’m the only mother who has ever had this happen to her. I question where I went wrong in my parenting. I wonder if I held his twin sister too much and him not enough. Did something go wrong during his “imprinting” stage? We should have been more intentional about switching babies. Did we play favorites and now they have favorites?

It sucks.

I’m learning to look for opportunities to sieze the good moments. For a lifetime planner, this is a challenge for me. Because the opportunities come without warning and often without any pattern. On Wednesday, he wanted to hold my hand while walking to pick up my older son from school. Last week, he asked if I wanted to play with him in the basement. On Saturday, he asked if the two of us could decorate the Christmas tree together.

Each day I continue to hope for progress. I’ve learned to not take a single act of kindness for granted. I celebrate each hug, each kiss and each bedtime story. I know these moments aren’t forced. I know they are real and honest. I cherish them all and hold them all in my heart.

The Great Dress Making Project

When I was in 7th or 8th grade my mom helped me sew a dress from scratch. We went to the fabric store, picked out a pattern, found some fabric and began the process of sewing a dress.

As a teen, my mom had been in 4-H and regularly sewed her own clothes not only for 4-H competitions but to wear to school as well. I’ve seen the newspaper clippings of her wearing her prizing winning fashions–the outfits were pretty good.

When I was a little girl, my mom bought the patterns for American Girl dolls and sewed me multiple outfits for my two dolls. My dolls were very well dressed and never lacked something to wear.

So I think my mom’s challenge to me in middle school to sew my own dress was her way of passing on her love of sewing to her only daughter. Only I really had no interest in learning how to sew.  I especially didn’t want to have to wear a dress I had sewn myself. While I’m sure my mother was hoping it would foster a sense of pride and satisfaction in my work, I worried my friends would think I made my own dress because we were poor.

But, I gave her the benefit of the doubt and set aside time each weekend to work on the dress. There was some big event on the calendar that served as our deadline to finish the dress. The plan was to wear the dress to that event. Each weekend we worked a little bit more on the dress. My mom taught me different sewing tricks about how to finish a seam and work with a pattern.

When it was all said and done, I had a pretty cute jumper dress. I don’t really remember what my attitude was during this time, but I can take a guess. I was a young adolescent girl participating in mandated mother daughter bonding time. I’m sure I wasn’t always a complete pain, but I’m pretty confident I didn’t enter into each sewing lesson with the same excitement I expressed when hanging out with my friends. I’m sure I gave my mom some attitude more than once during this project.

It kind of sucks to grow up and become a mother only to look back on all the crummy things you did to your own mother doesn’t it? I’m sure she imagined this project differently in her head. She might have even hoped I would have asked to sew another dress with her once we finished the first dress. But I never did. In fact, after finishing that dress, I only used the sewing machine a handful of other times. Any hopes of passing along her love of sewing ended with we finished the final seam on my dress.

But the other day, while sewing a button on some pants, my kids found some scrap fabric and asked me to sew them something. After some thought, I realized I had enough fabric to sew each of them a pouch. Using some hand stitching tricks that I’m sure my mom taught me during the great dress making project, I made three little pouches. These were even less fancy than my jumper dress, but in the eyes of two three year-olds and a five year-old I was a sewing genius.

To this day, when I find myself mending a hole or replacing a button, I’m thankful for the ease with which I am able to grab my sewing kit to repair the problem.

I have my mom to thank for that.

Happy Birthday Mom.