Happy Holidays from the Online Joneses!

Happy Holidays from the Online Joneses!

It’s here! Do you see the Christmas trees in the stores? Do you smell the cinnamon pinecones at Michaels? THE HOLIDAY SEASON HAS ARRIVED. People often think of this season as November-December but most parents know that it actually begins in October and extends into the summer. (Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout Willis?) Are you on social media? Do you see how American holidays require our constant attention for months on end? At least, that’s what Pinterest tells me. Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram tell me many things and it’s hard not to bow under the pressure.

In America we often talk about “keeping up with the Joneses,” but instead of walking around the neighborhood and envying people’s houses, we can now feel the pull every time we go online to these social media networks. During this time of year, they display tremendously creative ideas for our holiday celebrations, but they make parents feel woefully inadequate.

According to the Online Joneses…

In October we are supposed to decorate our entire house with spiders and cobwebs, “Boo” our neighbors, then grow and harvest cotton to make our kids’ costumes from scratch. After the Halloween treats are collected, we are supposed to coordinate an Almond Joy drug deal with “The Switch Witch” who will trade the candy for a toy. (Can’t we just tell them to stop eating candy? No, says Pinterest, that’s not the “creative” way to handle it.)

In November we are supposed to make paper maché thankfulness trees that stretch across our entire living room. If we don’t find time to construct these masterpieces then clearly our kids will never learn to be thankful. (Or will they?) After the tree is finished, we can prepare a ten-course Thanksgiving meal for our thirty closest family members. And make it organic, people.

In December the expectations are very clear: I am supposed to introduce Elf on the Shelf to my children and help coordinate twenty-five days of activities and entertainment. It’s endless fun to do in the midst of countdown calendars, Christmas cards, sugar cookies, Jesse trees, gingerbread houses, Operation Christmas Child, random acts of kindness, holiday parties, matching pajamas, homemade gifts and Christmas dinner for twenty. And I can’t forget to roll out the welcome wagon for Santa Claus by blanketing the backyard in fake, glittery snow to rival Arendelle. Zippity-do-da! Not overwhelming at all! 😉

In January, while laying on the couch in our post-Christmas fog, we must leave room for the Tooth Fairy. She comes throughout the year to leave glittery trails of encouragement on our children’s carpets or gifts under the pillow, like tickets to see Yo Yo Ma. (Whatever happened to twenty-five cents? Child of the 80s here.)

In February, we must follow Pinterest’s lead and shower our families in Valentines Day Love. We should decorate our entire house in pink and red and serve every food in heart shapes. Normal-shaped food will not do unless you are a bad parent. (*Sigh*…I’m feeling tired. What if I just want to whisper “I love you and I am glad you are in my world”?)

In March, the magic continues as I am told to dye my pancakes green and build a St. Patrick’s Day Leprechaun trap with my child. Linking an oatmeal container to an Amazon box, painted green and sprinkled in gold glitter will prove my motherly devotion and warrant another treasure for my kid. (Whoa, Little Patrick, can we give it a rest? This is four months of gift-giving in a row!)

In April (are we done yet??) it’s time to coordinate pastel-colored clothing and buy Jelly Beans and Peeps to prepare for the Easter Bunny. Candy-filled eggs shall be hidden around the yard, but wait…there is also a basket full of gifts! (For the fifth month in a row!? Isn’t the miracle of Easter a gift in itself??)

By May, all good parents should be 100% focused on summer birthday parties. Turning our backyards into petting zoos with koalas and unicorns is the least we can do for our children. If we transport our guests via hot air balloons then we will be guaranteed some Instagram-worthy photos. (Or maybe we order pizza, buy some plastic cups and play Minute-To-Win-It games?)

W-O-W. Are you exhausted from reading all of this?? I am! This feeling hits me EVERY SINGLE YEAR.

Do some of you coordinate all of these activities? Does this bring you joy? If so, I think you have an amazing gift for hospitality and party planning and people like you make the world fun. Being friends with you is exciting and I would love to ride in one of your hot air balloons someday!

For me, on the other hand, this holiday schedule is OVERWHELMING! My family does acknowledge many of these dates but I simply cannot keep up with my Facebook friends and the Instagram photos. I use the holidays to help pass the time and acknowledge the changing of the seasons but our traditions remain more simple; I have yet to find an affordable herd of unicorns and all my searches for homemade snow machines have been fruitless. (BTW, if anyone has actually done this, please send me photos.)

The truth is, I want my kids to have magical memories in their childhood, but engineering wow moments every six weeks is TOO MUCH…and an incredible amount of pressure! So while I occasionally battle “mom guilt,” I am trying to acknowledge my limitations, let go of the outlandish expectations and focus on what the holidays are truly about. These social media networks have benefits, but they don’t need to dictate my family’s celebrations.

Recently, as I was thinking again about my course of action during this holiday season, I happened to hear one of my children complaining that school was dumb “because it isn’t fun.” That night I began to wonder if too much of their lives have been centered around magic and entertainment. Do they realize that school, jobs, paying bills and other monotonous activities aren’t going to be magical? Have our American traditions created high expectations here? Food for thought.

Maybe there isn’t a direct correlation but I am wondering now if bringing down the holidays a notch might benefit both me AND my kids. I might be less exhausted and able to more easily enjoy the holiday season; they might learn that magic and gifts come at very special times, rather than every month.

So as you enter into this long season, let go of the Joneses and your mom guilt and go forth. Know that you have permission to go big, go small or just stay home and hug your kids. (And don’t forget to send me fake snow photos or selfies with your birthday unicorns.)

Happy Holidays!! 🎃 🍁🎄🧚‍♀️💕🍀🐰🎈

The Long Walk to School

The Long Walk to School

For years I have enjoyed the writings, blogs and social media posts of parents who admit they are struggling. Some I read over five years ago but I still remember the words and feel their impact. Their honesty gave me hope and offered relief in my imperfect moments with my imperfect children. I would read them and think “I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE!”

Recently I had a tough week with one of my kids, tougher in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. I sat down and wrote about it (because I’ve always been a journaling kind of girl) and then put it aside for a while, trying to get to the root of the mess and make sense of it. Weeks later, when I glanced at my words again I felt they were too personal to share on a public blog. I thought I would keep them private and show them to my kid at a later date.

BUT WHY??? Because I am afraid of being imperfect? Because I am afraid of admitting that my kid isn’t always an angel? Wasn’t I just talking about Living the Messy Life? Am I afraid that I am the only one experiencing these kinds of days and other parents might judge me for it? And if they do, why should I care? I am thinking that maybe, just maybe, there is someone out there who needs that same hope and relief that was offered to me in the past. Maybe there is someone who needs to read this and think “I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE.”

• • • • • • • • • • • •

Wow, kid. This morning was TOUGH. Why are these early hours such a struggle for us?? All week I sensed the pressure building so I shouldn’t have been surprised when your volcano exploded at seven am. You woke up angry, you didn’t like breakfast and none of the clothes in your closet were good enough. You lashed out at your sister, screamed at me and cried about going to school. You accused me of not caring and even threatened to call my own mother to complain about me. For such a little person, the flames of your explosion travelled quite far!

Unable to process all that you are feeling, you set your sights upon me, your mother, your safe place. This morning, nothing I did was correct, every action on my account warranted a complaint or criticism. Hurtful words flew out of your mouth with the intent to injure, regardless of all I do for you EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Girl, it’s hard to hear and it’s hard to take sometimes, especially knowing you don’t treat anyone else this way! You would never say these words to your father, grandparents or teachers. Just to me, your mother.

But I know this morning wasn’t really about me. I know it’s your own heart that is hurting. I know that you are very frustrated with school and lonely without your friends from last year. I know that your teacher is different, your routine has changed and life feels out of your control. While part of me wanted to demand your respect and admonish you for your outlandish behavior, I saw what was truly happening and tried my best to love you in that realm. And then it occurred to me…

While it’s regrettable that I am your verbal target, I CAN TAKE IT. You can lash out at me and call me all the names you desire because I AM THE ADULT and I can take it LIKE AN ADULT. My self-esteem doesn’t rest on your juvenile, volatile opinion and I don’t need to get bent out of shape over your misguided anger. (I have made this mistake before and it benefited no one.) This anger is a strange backhanded “gift” of motherhood but I am choosing to accept it wholeheartedly.

Somewhere, in the middle of these explosions, lays the naked truth: whether you hug me or hit me, I’m here for the long game and you know that. You know that you can let down your guard, reveal your ugly side and still be immensely loved. AND YOU ARE. And I adore you and would take a bullet in the chest for you…But golly, why you gotta be so fiesty with me all the time?? Sigh…

Here’s the deal: I’m not naïve. I know this erratic behavior might become much worse as the years progress. Your sensitive heart feels all the highs and all the lows and I know I will be caught in some of those webs of darkness as you grow older. Friends will disappoint you, boys will break your heart, school will be tough and life will throw wrenches in your plans. There will be many days when you don’t like me and I predict there will be a number of days when I don’t like you either… but I will always love you (cue Whitney Houston).

In the future, my presence, “the safe place”, will most likely be a proverbial dumping ground. Your words towards me might become more venomous and the stings might become stronger, but I am committed to living in that place with you, not taking your actions personally and helping you grow into the person you were created to be. Your fire and determination will make you a great leader someday and I plan to be sitting in the front row, watching it all happen.

You are too young to see this from my perspective, but someday, if you become a parent yourself, you will understand that we adults have a complicated dance…

We push you forward

We pull you back

We come down hard

We nudge you gently

We yell angry words

We whisper terms of endearment

We cry with frustration

We shed tears of joy.

Sometimes we do all these things in a single hour. Parenting is a complicated job so maybe you could cut me some slack, too?? I’m not a perfect mother and I frustrate you sometimes but I am out there on the dance floor TRYING to parent you well! I feel like I deserve at least one gold star. 😉

⭐️

This morning, after many of the emotions above, we finally managed to get off the floor, wipe both of our tears and fall back into our routine. With sneakers on and your backpack ready we began the long walk to school in complete silence, just you and me, watching the leaves blow and gathering up courage for the day ahead. I think you sensed that you went a little too far with me. I sensed that now wasn’t the time to replay the morning’s events. In that moment, you didn’t need a scolding but a warm hand. So I held tightly to your small grip and progressed through the neighborhood while we each pondered our morning and our world.

You and I have much ahead of us as we walk along this road, continuing to learn about life and our family and where we both fit in. New challenges and new emotions await us around each bend and this morning has allowed me to think it all through. It will be long journey, a long walk to this school of life, but you and I are in this together and I won’t let go.

a.k.a Mom

To all the mothers (and fathers) out there with “spirited” children:

Hold the line, stay strong, find some supportive friends and buy a big box of chocolate. We are raising world changers here and our efforts will be rewarded… someday… hopefully.

A Letter To My Younger Self: A Navy Wife’s Reflection

A Letter To My Younger Self: A Navy Wife’s Reflection

Twenty years ago I sat in a stadium watching my future husband receive his commissioning in the US Navy. With a stack of blissful hopes and dreams we jumped into the military life and flew into the unknown. For that hometown 20-something girl, every single thing was an unknown. Dropped into a completely new world, she fumbled through those first few years, trying her best to understand the new military community and her place within it. I wish I could write her a letter to calm her fears and let her know that she was on the precipice of something rich and amazing.

Dear Younger Self,

Congratulations on your beautiful wedding! That epic day filled with sword arches and a Top Gun serenade seemed like the perfect launching pad for your new life.

Now here you are, two weeks later, unpacking boxes in your new apartment and thinking “What on Earth just happened?” All your family and friends now live thousands of miles away and South Texas surrounds you like a foreign country. (And why is this foreign country so freakishly hot????)

I see the way you are looking around now, disoriented, skeptical and lonely…But let me tell you something: you are going to be okay. Actually, you are going to be more than okay. You are going to have the adventure of a lifetime. LISTEN TO ME:

I know you are lonely now, but you are going to have deep and meaningful friendships. You will have friends from all fifty states, some for a period, but some for a lifetime. You will have close neighbors who invest in you and care for your children. You will meet other military spouses who will become your new family, your new world and your new tribe of military code-breakers. They will meet you in the parking lot when your car battery dies. They will laugh and cry with you during seemingly endless deployment cycles. Find these friends.

Finding your tribe takes effort but you will learn to do it well. Don’t wait around, don’t sit inside, leave the house and pursue people. At first it feels uncomfortable to join a new group or be known as “The Mrs” but I promise you the reward is there for the taking. Eventually you will become so efficient and bold in your quest for tribal membership that you will compose emails like “I like you and I think you are fun, wanna meet me for coffee?” And they do. (Actually, you will do this more than once). I guarantee you that every time you relocate to a new city you will find fantastic friends who will warrant tears when you depart. They sit around the world now, just waiting to meet you for coffee.

You will not be in control of your family’s schedule and there is nothing you can do but laugh. I’m serious here. I see you feeling annoyed, angry and beyond frustrated with the Navy but fighting is futile- you will always lose. You can stubbornly plan a vacation ten months away but sometimes your husband won’t know his schedule until a couple months before. Years of your life will be dictated by the schedule of a ship or the affairs of the world, none of which you can control. The sooner you can accept that, the happier you will be. (Don’t choose anger, choose donuts. Just kidding. Maybe not. Apple Fritters are forever.)

Remember- It’s not his fault that the ship is leaving. Don’t blame him for the schedule when it is inconvenient. When he is walking out the door with his pack and you are laying on the floor with the stomach flu, hoping your unsupervised toddler doesn’t grab any kitchen knives, he isn’t trying to purposefully run out on you. He’s trying to stay employed and not go to a sleepover at the base brig. Pull up your big girl pants and stop taking his schedule as a personal affront! If you want your marriage to succeed, you must learn to separate the two.

Deployments will seem like the end of the world but they are often forgettable. Your first deployment will be nine months long but years later you will barely recall the details. And all those times he deploys when your kids are young and you feel like their hearts will be crushed, the truth is that they won’t remember those separations either. I don’t mean to downplay the effort it will take to persevere through a deployment (because those times will push you beyond your limits), but those separations won’t define you or your kids. Your husband will miss some milestones but he will be there for a million more moments later and those relationships will thrive.

Your kids will have a different childhood than your own, but that is okay. You will wonder if moving them is traumatic, if not living on the same street will damage them. But then you will watch them learn about farming in California, walk the streets of Paris and tour the Capitol Building in DC. You will see their world views broadened through their personal experiences & friendships and you will know that their horizons are wider than you ever dreamed. Contrary to what you worry about, your children will have strong, beautiful roots that grow in many directions.

Your professional career is going to struggle but that’s okay, too. You will love some of your future jobs, but there will come a time when balancing work, family & the military life will be very difficult. “The flexible one” will need to be you and that’s the blunt truth. When your kid has a fever and can’t go to school, your husband won’t be coming home from the ship to handle it. When your kid is crying in the school bathroom after Daddy deploys, you will be the one to show up. And that’s when you will realize your most important job- to show up every time. You will be your family’s grounding force in an ever-shifting world and that stability will be worth more than any paycheck.

The military life will make your world bigger and smaller at the same time. Years from now, you will drive across the United States, from coast to coast, and know someone in almost every place. You will watch the news and think of your foreign friendships and the lessons they taught you about their home countries. Daily, you will pass souvenirs in your home- reminders from squadrons, port visits, tours abroad and all the moments when your world expanded a little further. You will realize one day that you are no longer the same person who was unpacking boxes in that first apartment.

Like every phase of adulthood…

This journey will pass in a blink. When these friends from South Texas begin to retire, your mind will replay all the emotions of the twenty years- the heartache of goodbyes, the stress of moving, the struggle of solo-parenting, the joy of Homecomings, the feelings of patriotism, the love of friends and everything in-between. You will grab your husband’s hand and think of all you have seen and experienced together and realize that the “sacrifice” of this life looks more like a beautiful gift.

SO GO. Don’t be afraid. A wonderful journey stands before you.

With love from your Older and Wiser Self,

p.s. Consider using eye cream a little earlier, then maybe you won’t have big bags under your eyes at age Forty. I’m just sayin.’

p.p.s. Never iron your husband’s white uniform without first confirming that the iron is clean. Especially not the night before a big event. TRUST ME.

Living the Messy Life

Living the Messy Life

People say the kitchen is the lifeblood of a house. It’s where family and friends congregate and eat; it’s where parties linger, conversations flow and occasions are celebrated.

I spend a significant portion of my day standing in my kitchen, which usually doubles as a home office because Mama needs a command center! As a military family we have lived in many houses but rarely have these floor plans offered a work space close to the kitchen. Consequently, I usually commandeer a corner and claim it as my own.

What happens then? Clutter. Some chaos. An endless stack of school papers and bills residing next to the bowl of bananas. It’s enough to make Mrs. Marie Kondo weep. So the reality is that my kitchen is usually a bit messy!

While I am definitely capable of sanitizing the space for the public eye, if you spontaneously pop over for a visit, you will definitely see clutter and maybe a half-eaten piece of peanut butter toast which my kid insists she will finish after school. (Truthfully you will see clutter in other areas of my house, too, but that’s another story.) As my favorite letterboard quote says: “My decorating style is ‘There appears to have been a struggle.’” **Sigh**… housekeeping is just not my strong suit.

Years ago I had a new acquaintance who often spoke about her tidy home. The subject weaved itself into our conversations over and over again until I began to grow suspicious. As she spoke about her wonderfully organized house and her constantly well-behaved kids, I sensed her need to project an image of perfection but wished she would simply RELAX.

Desiring to know her better, I invited her to my own house for a last-minute cup of coffee (this is another word for “mom-speed-dating”). Immediately after coordinating the date, I thought about this woman’s spotless house and began tidying my messy kitchen, fearing judgment for my housekeeping failures.  Halfway through the process, I stopped. What was I doing? Was I trying to prove something to her? Was I also trying to project perfection in order to be her equal? Man, it was contagious!

In a moment of clarity, I realized that if I desired to know this friend better, we needed to push through this façade. So I decided to leave the clutter. I don’t recall the exact state of affairs but surely a stack of mail cavorted with some school papers, children’s drawings and dirty dishes. While the scene felt slightly awkward, I hoped that in revealing my imperfection, this new friend would feel more comfortable revealing hers and we could move forward on equal turf. No competition here.

Did she notice? I will never know. But later that evening I confessed to my husband that I had intentionally left our kitchen in chaos for this woman’s visit and said “It’s my ‘Messy Kitchen Ministry’. It’s my way of subtly telling people that perfection isn’t important to me.”

From then on, “Messy Kitchen Ministry” became a catch phrase in our conversations as we marched forward, striving to be transparent and authentic with the people we meet. We learned that showing our “weaknesses” went a long way in making people feel comfortable. Our real lives involve unfortunate mistakes, unflattering photos and untidy corners…the messy stuff… and I have learned not to be afraid of it. (And frankly, there is usually humor to be found in much of it.)

The truth is that life is a bit messy for everyone, is it not? I’m talking beyond the kitchen walls now. And yet…

Do we ever choose to reveal a little of our mess or do we wrap ourselves into a pretty package and project the perfect life? Do we shove our weaknesses and failures into cupboards with the hope that no one sees them? Do we only post the best parts of ourselves on social media to convince the world that we have it all together? It’s tempting to live this way.

I’m not saying we should showcase our mess, plant our flags and marinate in it forever (our end goal is not to live in a state of chaos), but rather, wouldn’t it be nice to end the charade and be our honest selves? Can we all admit that we are works in progress, striving to be better? Can we all admit that sometimes our homes don’t look like magazines, our kids don’t always behave and our lives don’t always go the way we planned?

I have an idea….

What if we collectively raised our hands and said “I am not perfect and I don’t expect my friends to be”?

What would happen to us then?? I think we would find great community, intimate friendship and a more grace-filled perspective! I think we would stop comparing ourselves to Pinterest and start laughing with our friends about our failures (crafting and otherwise). Maybe we could finally admit to some of our struggles without fearing judgment. Perhaps we would be more honest, more relaxed, and feel more accepted.

Because when life boils down to the basics, that’s the way I want to live- leftover peanut butter toast, crumpled utility bills and all. Let’s start a new movement. Let’s choose to be honest and messy and find friends who do the same.