Abraham, Rachel, Soren and Liam. Our life together in Smalltown, Idaho.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

It REALLY is magic! (part I)

I've been doing some soul-searching during the past couple of weeks, trying to figure out what it is about my life, exactly, that is so very exhausting to me.  While completing some ranty freewrites with myself, I discovered that a huge issue was that I felt completely out of control when it came to parenting Soren.  That it seemed like he was more the boss than I was.

The big problem has always been dealing with his persistent and explosive responses to not getting his own way.  I found myself saying "yes" to requests I didn't really want to agree to just because I didn't want to deal with the whining, badgering, arguing, and tantrums that would inevitably follow.   And then there were the times when I said "no."  Observe.    

Soren: Mommy?  Can I have a cookie? 
Mommy: No, Sweetpea.  You've already had enough sweets today.
Soren (switching to whine voice): But I want a cookie!!
Mommy:  Sorry, Babe.  No cookie.
Soren:  Give me a cookie!
Mommy: No.
Soren: But whyyyyyy?  
Mommy:  Because mommy wants your body to be healthy and strong.  A little bit of sweets are okay, but too much keep you from eating the healthy foods your body needs.
Soren: Yeah, but, can I please just have one more cookie?
Mommy: No, Baby.  
Soren:  You're STUPID!  He hits Mommy.  
Mommy:  You do not hit your mother!  Go to your room!
Soren collapses on the floor and starts screaming.  
Soren continues to writhe and scream. 
Mommy picks up Soren and carries him to his room while he thrashes, scratches, hits, and possibly bites en route.
Soren:  I HATE YOU!
Mommy slams the door and locks it from the outside.  Soren lies down on the floor and starts kicking the door.  Mommy tries to ignore this but is completely worked up by all the yelling and screaming and violence that has just occurred.  After about one minute of listening to thunderous door pounding, she freaks out.  She marches over to the door and hollers, :  "STOP KICKING THE DOOR!  STOP IT!"
Soren  responds by screaming like a velociraptor and kicking more furiously.  
"If you keep kicking the door, I will come in there and spank you!"
"If you spank me, I will hit you!"
Mommy storms off and Soren continues to scream in his bedroom.  Mommy frets the whole time, wondering if she should go in and give him a cuddle to help him calm down or if doing so would reinforce this dreadful  behavior.  

This drama could continue for a long time.  And it was horrible.  It left Soren feeling like a bad kid.  It left me feeling like an awful parent.  And it left Liam just kind of doing his own thing somewhere alone.  

I knew this wasn't right....but I had NO IDEA how to fix it.  I've read several parenting books and I work at a counseling center, for Pete's sake, but I was still at a total loss for how to cope with these scenarios.  Most people advised ignoring the whining and tantrums-- and this was NOT working for me.  

But then my co-worker Eric brought a stack of books to work.  Among them was one I'd heard a little bit about before.  It was called 1-2-3 Magic.  I really didn't want to read another parenting book.  But I figured, "What the hell?"  I took it home and read the first half in a single evening.

(to be continued)

Read Part II here.

Read Part III here.  

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Preschool Graduation

On May 16, 2012, Soren graduated from preschool.  

Grandma Hanson and Auntie Clee came to the ceremony and even brought gifts!  
Abe photographed the whole performance, I grinned like an idiot, and Liam tried to join in whenever he could.  

On display in the classroom were life-sized self-portraits of each of the children.  
This is Soren's.  
(I don't think I'm going to take this in for psychological analysis anytime soon.  
I really just don't want to know.)  

 The kids sang several songs they'd learned throughout the school year.   

Isn't Miss Misty so cute?  She was the perfect teacher for Soren.  
He adored her and learned so much this year.  

Then each of the kids stood up and told the audience something they'd learned that year.  They would say, "Before preschool, I didn't know_____________________."  And then they'd demonstrate their newly acquired knowledge.  One kid showed how he could count by tens, another proclaimed that he had learned the Pledge of Allegiance.   

Soren's hopped to the front and told everyone that he had learned how to write his name.  And then he demonstrated by writing in the air with a swordsman's enthusiasm   "S....O......R.....E....N!"  (The 'N' turned into a flurry of Zorro scribbles.)  

Afterwards there were cookies.

We're proud of our little graduate.  

Fire Station Field Trip

Soren's preschool teacher took his little class on a variety of field trips this year-- they went to a bakery, the post office, the library, and the fire station.  Liam and I were able to join them for their fire station field trip.   

Each kid had a "buddy" for safety.  Here's Soren holding hands with his buddy.

 Here's the whole class, plus some little siblings.  I am totally digging Baby Gwen's duck face (far left).   You'll notice many of the kids are wearing "Junior Firefighter" badges.

The fireman, Randy Adams, let Soren's classmate try on a firefighting outfit.  

Then they got to look inside a real fire truck!

The best part was when Mr. Adams let all the kids take a turn squirting the fire hose.  

Our town's firefighting force is all volunteer, which means that Randy was kind enough to volunteer his morning to teach the kids about fire safety and fire stations. He was really good at talking to the class in a way they could understand without talking "down" to them. 

Aren't they all so adorable?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


I was always going to be a stay-at-home mom.  There was just no other way to raise a family.

I knew that when I became a mother, I wanted to still be a "real" person, with interests and passions and activities that extended beyond the sphere of poopy diapers and Windex and casseroles.  I would have a writing office in the attic of my adorable two-story house.  I would spend afternoons there, authoring books at a wooden desk pushed under a window with a view of the back yard, in case the kiddos wanted to play back there.  But I also knew I would always be home.  Being a mom.  Doing the mom thing.  Like every mom I knew.

When Soren was born, I tried to quit my job to stay home with him full time.  My boss begged me to stay and take care of the office finances for a few hours a week, and I didn't see any harm in taking a few sanity-saving hours away from home to earn some extra money, so I did.  Then I was offered a twenty-hour-a-week position at an inpatient drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation center, the same facility where Abe was working full time.  Abe and I talked long and hard about the impact that my working more hours outside the home might have on Soren and the then-fetus Liam.  We decided it would be worth the extra income.  Just six month after I took that job, the entire facility shut down.

The Clinical Supervisor from the rehab immediately offered me a part-time job at his own business.  I snatched it up.   Pretty soon a full-time position opened up in the company and my bosses offered it to me.  I was grateful to have a way to provide for my family while Abe focused on his Master's degree.  I thought I would be there for a year, max.

That was three years ago.

Abe recently applied for a job at BYU-Idaho.  I knew he was going to get it....I just knew he would.  During the weeks between the position becoming available and the selection process beginning, I set up a daily stay-at-home mom routine in my head.  I decided I would get dressed and put on shoes first thing in the morning, to keep myself productive.  I got excited about how CLEAN! I would be able to keep my house. I imagined all the science projects the boys and I would do, all the crafts we would make, all the books we would have time to read.  I decided I would start couponing, now that I had extra time to devote to such things.  And I had little daydreams about all the healthy, well-rounded meals I would cook every day.  I started fantasizing about finding a playgroup and making friends with the other stay-at-home moms.  I thought how nice it would be to have a "girls' night out" without feeling guilty about leaving my children for the one millionth time that week.  

On Monday, we got a call from BYU-I.  They wanted to interview Abraham!  Of course they did!  He was the man for the job!  And they knew it too!  The interview went well.

And then, last week, we received an email from BYU-I.   They didn't want to hire Abraham.  He had been  eliminated from the pool of possible candidates for the position.  We were crushed.

Throughout my life, I've had dreams come and go.  I've traded some outlandish dreams for more realistic ones.  I've modified some, forgotten about others.  A few have been put on hold.  I have torn dreams up and thrown them in the trash.  I'd always heard that dreams could shatter, but I'd never seen it happen--until that day.  Sitting there, laptop in lap, an image of the stay-at-home mom dream life I had painted appeared in my mind, unbidden.  And then, as though it had been hit by a crow-bar from behind, it shattered into a million tiny little shards that fell to the ground in an ugly heap.

I cried and we held each other and talked through it.  It's not all bad, we know.  Abe's current part-time job enables me to work four nine-hour days a week instead of five eight-hour days, giving me a delicious extra day to spend on the home and the children.  Because of our family members' willingness to help out, the boys have been able to build strong relationships with their aunties (Collette and Briar) and my parents.  Under Abe's less-than-watchful care, the kids have learned how to be more independent and how to play with each other, probably much better than they would have been able to under my somewhat helicopter-hover parenting style.  Lots of healthy children have been raised by two working parents.  And it's quite possible I would go completely out of my mind if I stayed home full time: I like my job and I love my coworkers.  These things brought us some comfort, a measure of peace, and (left without a choice, really), we've moved on.

But Sunday in Sacrament Meeting a young mother stood up and bore her testimony.  She said that she had recently read a book called Just a Mom.  "I am so grateful to be 'just a mom,'" she said.  "That I don't have other responsibilities outside of my work in my home with my children.  I'm so grateful I can stay at home and focus on them."  I'm happy for her too. I know this mom and love her and think she's doing a wonderful job with her little ones.  But hearing those words spoken out loud just crushed my heart.  I had three minutes until I had to get up in front of the whole congregation and play the organ for the closing hymn and I had just turned into a mascara-smeared bawling mess.  It wasn't pretty.  I pulled myself together as best as I could  but as I was finishing up my prelude music, Abe came up from behind and whispered to me, "You are a wonderful mother.  You're doing a wonderful job.  You do a lot more with our children than many moms who have full-time access to their kids."  That he knew exactly what had made me cry made me cry even more.  Soren joined us on the stand and demanded to know the reason for my sob fest.  I told him I was sad that I couldn't stay home with him every day.  And he said, "But, Mommy!  Today is your day off!  It's okay."  And he wrapped his little arms and legs around me just as tight as he could.  

Being a working mom is hard.  It's hard because there's so much to do and so little time to do it in.  But stay-at-home moms are busy too, stretched thin and exhausted.  I know this.  I think the thing that makes working outside the home extra hard is the sadness that comes from knowing how much of your precious resources are not being pumped directly into the heart of your family.  There's so much I want to give my boys.  So many ways I would rather spend that thirty-six hours a week.

This past week I learned about a way to eliminate power struggles with Soren.  I learned how to say "no" and have it stick, without having to cope afterwards with hours of whining and crying and badgering and screaming, etc. I've been using it, and it's been working, and it's been liberating.  (Liberating!)  I will blog more about this later, after I've used it for a while.  I find, however, that even with my new found parenting power, I really struggle to say "no" when one of my boys asks for my time or my attention.  Even when I'm completely exhausted, even when all I really want is five minutes to slip into a mini-coma, even when I really, really, really don't want to, I usually give them whatever time or attention they want.  This is hard on me-- and  it's probably not really good for them, either.  But I can't put my child in time-out for begging me to come outside and push him in the swing.  I just can't.

So I think that's my number-one challenge in trying to work full-time while nurturing my little family-- figuring out when it's okay to let go and do some things I want to do when I already feel so intensely guilty for being gone as much as I am.  Or maybe finding ways to "be a real person" that don't bite into kid time or work time or sleep time.

So, yeah.   Life has brought me challenges I didn't expect.  I guess it does that to everyone.  And solutions to our problems and concerns are often nebulous, ambiguous, and/or elusive.  There are often no cut-and-dried answers to our biggest questions.  This is something that often makes me want to take Life by the neck and strangle it; it's also one of the characteristics I adore the most in Life.  I kind of like that Life keeps me hopping.  One of the things I'm always telling Soren is that even when things are hard, he can do them, because he can do hard things.  It's something I tell myself a lot.  I love knowing that I can do difficult things (or, at least, things that seem difficult to me).  It makes me feel strong and competent and capable and empowered.  So, thank you, Life, for not allowing my life to go exactly as I planned it.   Thank you for throwing a fastball instead of lobbing the ball over the plate for an easy shot.  I may not be able to hit it yet, but I will practice my butt off and one of these days, I will.  And some day, it will be a home run.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday, May 06, 2012

What Happiness Looks Like

My brother Seth left the following comment on my previous blog post about happiness:

"Help me out here Rachel and please tell me... What does it mean to YOU to be happy? I mean, if you don't mind, I'm curious to know what you think happiness is. Your definition of happiness. What does it look like, feel like, etc.? What would your life look like if you were to achieve this elusive state of happiness?"

I sat down and wrote him a long email about my definition of happiness...then, when it was finished, decided that I would share it here on my blog.  

So, in response to Seth's prodding, this is how I would describe a happier version of my life:
  • I wouldn't be tired ALL the damn time.  (And while I know that some of my fatigue comes from occasionally waking up at night with kids, I think a good portion of it is a result of some of my psychological choices.  Generally speaking, I get a decent amount of sleep at night, and I exercise regularly and eat decently, but I ALWAYS wake up tired and often want nothing but to sleep after my kids have gone to bed.   I nap pretty much every Saturday and Sunday.   I think I use sleep as a numbing mechanism, a sweet escape into unconsciousness.)
  • I wouldn't be held captive by my fears-- the number one being fear of insufficiency, the second being the fear of disapproval/criticism/rejection.  I live in absolute terror of being disliked and/or disapproved of.  Looking back over the past decade I can see that this attitude alone has robbed me of a lot of opportunities for joy in my life.     
  • I would truly believe that I am my gift to the world, that the best thing I have to offer the world is my genuine self-- strengths, limits, and everything in between.  I would possess an innate sense of my worth instead of the belief that my worth is contingent on other peoples' approval. 
  • I would believe that it is okay for me to feel peace and contentment, even if I haven't achieved perfection or done everything/been everything I'd hoped to do/be that day.  The Buddha, in a conversation with a king about their respective levels of happiness, asked the king if he could sit still for an hour and be happy the entire time.  The king replied he thought he could.  The Buddha then asked if the king could sit still for an entire day and still be content.  The king didn't think he could.   (I know I certainly couldn't!) The Buddha told the king that he (the Buddha) could sit still for an entire week and still be perfectly at peace.  I would like to be at that place...a place where I could feel peace even if I hadn't done anything to "earn" it.  If I were content with myself and my inherent worth, I believe I would be able to always (rather than sometimes) do good things out of a place of genuine love, rather than a frantic desire to make myself worthy of love/approval/happiness.  And I think that means believing that I am already okay.  Just as I am.  
Of course, there are barriers to becoming happy.  For one, adopting an attitude like this takes a tremendous leap of faith-- faith in my own goodness, faith that if I let go of my fear of inadequacy that I will still be adequate.  And there is also the question of practical application.  How do I come to a place like this in my heart?  How do I develop a belief in my own goodness?  How do I release my fears of disapproval and replace them with love and compassion for myself and others?  

P.S. Yes, there is a lifestyle I would prefer-- which I described in detail in my "Miracle" post-- but I know that happiness comes from within, not having ideal circumstances occur without.   

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Video Share: 23 1/2 hours

I really love this summary of how simply we can improve our health in just 30 minutes a day.


So, happiness.

I've realized recently that I haven't been allowing myself to be happy.  I think I worry that I don't deserve it, so I spend my life trying to make myself worthy for happiness.  But there's always something I could be doing better, some way in which I could improve-- so I don't allow myself the luxury of happiness.  The thinking is, of course, that if I allow myself to be happy I might stop progressing.  And maybe that's why I think there are qualifications for happiness-- because I worry that if people are allowed to be happy despite mistakes that they've made and are making they won't have any motivation for becoming better, for righting the wrongs in their lives.

So I've been thinking a lot about what it means to "deserve" happiness.  Is happiness something we earn?  Does everyone have the right to happiness?  Or are there some people who don't deserve to be happy?  Does a murderer have the right to happiness?  How about a mother who has deserted her children?  Or the guy who flips off anyone who makes him mad while driving?  Or the neighborhood gossip?  Is it okay for her to be happy?   And if there are some people who don't deserve to be happy, what exactly are the qualifications for happiness?  I've been taught my whole life that happiness is a natural consequence of making good choices-- but nobody is perfect.  So how many good choices add up to happiness?

On the other hand, it's possible that good choices spring from happiness.   Alfred Adler taught that children who feel good about themselves make better choices.  I believe this applies to adults as well.   Perhaps if you allow yourself happiness you will desire to make good choices.  If a person were truly happy and at peace with herself, she wouldn't want to murder or leave her children or flip off people or gossip.

For sure, happiness is also a choice.  I think you can make all the good choices in the world and still choose to be unhappy.

So while I am certainly not perfect, I don't think I have done-- or am doing-- anything so terribly egregious so as to have disqualified myself from happiness.  So maybe I will allow myself a little.  Besides, you can't give your children something you don't have-- and ALL I want for my children is their happiness.

Again, I'm reminded of the resolutions I came up with earlier this year:


Seek quiet.



Be mindful.

Let go.

I wrote these and then stopped thinking about them.  I made a few steps towards delegating, which did relieve a little of my stress. But I think it's time to start thinking about them again, more seriously this time.

I'm gonna be happy, dammit.


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