Glimpses of summer

Confession: I remember why I love and hate summer. This one is, as usual, an even mix of peaceful and chaotic.

My roses are blooming, their enchanted petals slick with rain and glory.

My children are home, and we have a break from all external worries like math and friendships. But someone is always talking, usually at high volume and tempo. Always.

I forget how much I need space to breathe and regroup, and how tricky it is during this season. I push my bedtime late, and later, like a beached fish straining for the oxygen he cannot access. Some days I love the chaos too: baby toys have been replaced, for the most part, by Lego, crafts, tools, library books strewn around the house. There are many appointments, and enormous evaporating stacks of groceries.

I never did get the hang of being a sacrificial-mother-who-picks-up-the-pieces-without-complaint as well as an intentional-mother-who-requires-children-to-be-reponsible-for-themselves. I try to hit the happy middle: I pick up after them while lecturing intentionally about their irresponsibility.

Together, we eat up the summer – the watermelon and sweet corn, sold cheaply in the grocery, surprisingly delicious even so early in the season – the swim sessions with a whiff of chlorine and new friendships, or the sand and sun at the lake – the ice cream, melting down our chins.

I tried to take a selfie. I think it might have failed, but I’m not sure.

Our greatest success of the summer so far has been assigning one child per meal. He or she helps me choose the menus, prepare the food, and clean up the kitchen afterward. One child gets breakfast, one lunch, one supper, and we switch every week. I prefer to manage one child at a time, or I burn everything.

Kelly says when Jenny gets older she will have to make SNACKS.

We made a schedule for daily snacks, because of all the phrases I can’t stand, the second worst is “What’s for snack?” The worst, in case you are wondering, is a tie between, “Mom, help!” [while running away from a pursing younger sibling, after having relentlessly goaded him or her into aggression] and “Mom, I’m bored.”

Some say that if your children are bored, you should intervene with chores. Some say that if your children are bored, you should not intervene, and allow the boredom to push them toward creativity. I try for the happy middle. I don’t want you to even ask what that is.

Anyway, we have been eating high on the hog: fondue suppers, kebabs, cheese wontons, maple-frosted cupcakes, gourmet omelets, and all our favorite dishes. The snack schedule works fine (Monday morning pretzels and cheese, Tuesday afternoon a popsicle) until we get to something healthy. They hate when that happens.

Summer is lovely. We soak up the sunshine and hold new kittens and go see hot air balloons and argue about the hammock I got for Mother’s Day. The kids think I am being a pig because I won’t let them jump on it or push each other out of it. “You just want to keep it all for yourself,” they accuse.

You got it, honey.

I get tired of being the bad guy though. So we plan lots of fun stuff and do it. That helps to balance out all the times I say “no,” and “that’s not what our family does” and “get in here and empty this dish drainer like I told you.” They still think I am a big old meanie, and for me that is the most wearing thing about this stage of mothering.

We have more trouble getting in sync.

“Mom, what are you doing on the computer?”

I am sitting outside typing. “Writing.”

“Well, I’m bored. And now a bunch of dandelions will grow in your flowerbed because I just threw a big bunch of seeds in there.”

{See? Untreated boredom breeds creativity.}

“Is she actually writing this down? Everything we say?”

This is the hard part, and I hate how quickly it came – they don’t think I’m god anymore, and I require things that are painful for us both, and sometimes my ideas look to them like the stuff they sneeze out of their noses on dry winter mornings. Ugh, mom.

“You’ll thank me someday” hardly cuts it.

I wish there were a way to know that I’m doing it just a little bit right, but mothering as far as I can tell is mostly in the dark. Others’ mistakes are clearer; my own are deeply felt, but not easily corrected until it’s too late, indistinct until they appear with blinding clarity in the rearview mirror. Mothering is driving down a country road at high speeds after midnight, the potholes extra painful because I didn’t see them coming. The trajectory veers first one way, then another, because even when I know where I aim to head (which isn’t often), the roads are confusing and it takes a while to get there.

There are good things too. Sometimes we love each other very much, especially when I say yes to a spray painting project and am, briefly, the best mommy in the whole world. Then I pass around some more cupcakes, chocolate-frosted this time.

The delightful part about this stage is always having comrades, game for adventure. I am rarely alone. I have a salad-eating buddy, a shopping helper, a joke lover, and an enthusiastic gaggle of partners in reading, picnicking, boating, exploring, pretty much anything I name that does not involve work. It’s fun. They are fun. They are starting to have thoughts of their own, and can tell a good book from a mediocre one, and spin insights that make me laugh for the intelligent feelings behind them.

“You know what people in Middle Earth the Mennonites remind me of? The Ents. Because we don’t really pride ourselves on being that much to look at, you know? And we’re slower to take opportunities and get on board with new things. But if something we love is threatened or destroyed, you have to reckon us in.”

How did we get here? I couldn’t tell you. I thought he was busy with Play-Doh just yesterday.

“Mommy, I really like how you sleep with your fists. It makes you look like a baby. It makes you look sweet.”

Okay? I don’t know how we got there either. Whatever.

This is summertime at the Zooks. What’s yours like?


And thanks for your delightful comments and confessions on marriage. I enjoyed them very much.

Choose life

How many of us do you think will have the chance to speak timely words to a mother dithering on the edge of her pro-life / pro-choice decision? One in a hundred? Less than that?

I cannot tell. But I know this: Every day, my words and actions to everyone around me vote for life — or they do not. I can talk until the day dawns about the evils of abortion, but what am I doing?

jenny_4938

Sometimes I assume that being pro-life means I have to volunteer at my local crisis pregnancy center, march in Washington D.C, or become a foster parent. The Lord in his infinite wisdom and great sense of humor has led me on a couple of those paths—but it’s not really what I’m talking about. I am asking myself not if I am pro- the pro-life movement, but if I am pro-life. All life.

When was the last time I held a child to give his mom a break?

How do I respond to the screaming child (and her frazzled mother) in the next aisle of the grocery store?

On Sundays, do I watch the circus on the bench in front of me* with a frown? a smirk? or active compassion?

*Theoretically speaking. Usually I am the circus. Sometimes I’m the frazzled mother in the next aisle too: Come bring me coffee.

Am I warming my own children with love?

Am I willing to love a child who is not mine? my Sunday school student? my nephew? my runny-nosed neighbor kid?

What comes out of my mouth when I hear that Mrs. Seven Babies In About As Many Years is expecting her eighth?

Death and life are in the power of the tongue.
How have I enabled? What have I done?


Every time I celebrate a child, I am helping his mother to love him.

Every time I give her what she needs from me most—my T.I.M.E—I am helping her to keep him.


I may not meet the frightened expectant mother contemplating abortion, but every expectant mother, every overwhelmed mother, carries fears I cannot see. She needs to hear these words:

You’ve got this. I am so happy for you. I will be here to help.

That’s all I have to say.

How has your load been lightened by the people around you? How have you lightened the load for others?

Mogs and mistakes

It seems that posting even twice a week will be over my head at times. I will write when I can. “Just enough to stay sane,” a wise friend told me, and I will be taking her advice. It will help if both you and I forget about my little Mondays and Fridays idea. Pretend that didn’t happen.


Confession: I burned the first batch of caramel good and hard to the bottom of the saucepan, because I was washing supper dishes and singing I Stand Amazed in the Presence, and I forgot to stir even once.

With guests due to arrive within the hour for an apple dipping party, my knight-of-twelve-years-and-counting-who-has-gotten-me-out-of-worse-scrapes-than-this-one offered to make the emergency run for more caramels. {You know the Dr. Laura definition of true love? Swimming through shark-infested waters to bring her a glass of lemonade.}

I turned to drying the dishes, but the kiddos were wild and needy and hyper. Abruptly, I set my tea towel on the counter to rescue one who appeared in danger of sudden death from starvation or sibling attack or something perilous—and when I snatched up the towel again two minutes later, I forgot it was wrapped around my favorite of favorite mugs, the one my best friend gave me for my birthday, hand-crafted by her other best friend.

There was a rather dreadful smash. Continue reading

Socks, sins, summer’s end

Confession: I was feeling all Mother Teresa about myself this summer for loving and sheltering a flock of needy children, until I realized that I was harassing my sons into turning their socks right side out before tossing them in the laundry so I didn’t have to touch the sweat and dirt.

That was my little clue that I haven’t yet arrived.

It is odd how you can measure yourself by a particular aspect of life, and forget the rest of the picture and your other sins. If there is one thing I’ve learned this summer, it’s that holiness and unholiness live in the most surprising of places.

Why are you wearing only one sock? I asked my second son. Continue reading

Just for new moms

Confession: Nowadays, my biggest mothering challenge seems to be saying “What?” so many times.

“Hey Mom.”

“What?”

“Guess what?”

“What?”

“Do you know what happened today?”

“What?”

“Um… I forget what I was saying.”

WHAT??!?!

Okay, there might be a few bigger challenges, like sibling rivalries, preadolescent attitudes, and foster bye-byes. But my point is that it’s gotten smoother.

It’s easy to forget my earliest days of mothering, when being responsible for the health and happiness of a small person 24/7 was oh, so daunting. Probably every woman makes the transition to motherhood differently. For some, those first baby days are sweet and simple, everything they’d hoped for and more. For others, they bring a serious reality check.

The work never ends.

He won’t stop crying.

Will I ever have time to take care of myself again?

She’s such a good baby, but I just feel overwhelmed all the time.

If this is you, take heart. You’re not alone.

newborn feet

After my first child was born, and I was dealing with post-partum depression I didn’t recognize, I couldn’t hear of someone else’s pregnancy news without thinking “Oh honey, I’m sorry. You have no idea what you are getting into.” I worried all the time, listening for his crying, stressed out that I’d do something wrong. I felt like I had become a different person—my body and moods unfamiliar, my old routines shattered.

I remember the first time I left my son for half an hour with Grandma. Though I was desperate for a break, I felt a chain tied between my baby and I, tugging unbearably every moment I was gone, and I thought I’d never be free again.

Though my first child was by far my easiest baby in temperament, I fought months of exhaustion and discouragement. It wasn’t so much the work as the responsibility. This small person would be utterly dependent on me for an awfully long time. There was no mom to call on but me. At any hour of the day or night, he might need me and I would be on duty. Some women thrive on that sweet dependence and connection, but for me, the first time around spelled claustrophobia and fear.

I felt small and inexperienced. I thought all moms were selfless, and tireless, and above all knew what to do. I was just me, trying to wing it. Living in a new community without extended family, just beginning to form friendships, I felt so isolated and unprotected. Who would guide me? Who would take care of me?

If this is you, take heart. You’re not alone, and it gets better, I promise.

newborn crying

Though I now mother four children, and regularly conquer task lists that would once have looked superhuman to me, I’d personally take this stage any day over that first one. It was hard!—and new moms are brave!—and I never had to go through it again. My others babies didn’t come close to packing the overwhelming responsibility of the first. I’d deal with a couple weeks of emotional drama post-partum, and then things would level off. I can do this. I remember how. It’s going to be okay.

{If by any chance you are pregnant with your first baby, this is not the time for you to start freaking out. You will surely be one of the moms who finds those newborn days simply sweet! And there’s this…}

The thing about mothering is, you have to learn as you go.

You can read the best books, be loved by the best husband, line up the most support, and in the end, it’s still you who has to show up and make this thing happen. But you have Jesus. He won’t leave you. You’ve never done this before, and that’s okay. You won’t do it perfectly, and that’s okay. Babies are more resilient than you think, and although there’s a lot you can learn, there isn’t one right way to do it.

You are in a role that nothing but the role quite prepares you for. And you’ll get better at it.

You don’t have to love every minute. You don’t have to feel that all your dreams came true and your baby is a squishable shnookums you can’t stop holding. You just have to show up. Ask for help. Talk to your husband/ your doctor/ a few friends about what you’re feeling. And show up.

“When do you start liking it?” a young mother asked me lately. She wasn’t talking about mothering so much as housework, endless dishes and laundry in a lonely house when she’s a woman who loves people and getting out.

“You don’t have to like it,” I said firmly. (The “loving every minute” jazz puts way too much pressure on the rest of us.) “You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it.”

Whoa, I thought. What kind of advice is coming out of my mouth?!?

“And pretty soon, you’ll be good at it.

kissing a newborn

Pretty soon, you’ll find that the bewildering blur of diapers and nursing pads and sleep schedules has settled into quite a workable system, and you’ll be whirring in the hub of it, doing what you’re good at.

There is a lot of joy there.

*****

All photos in this post were taken by my friend Shaunda Stoltzfus when my daughter Kelly was two weeks old. You’d never know it, but five of our older kids were tearing around and climbing all. over. us. during this photoshoot.