1. Stop to smell the roses…and dandelions.
To my Madeline, who's almost 3, every blossom – no matter how simple - is a lovely flower and one worthy of being picked. She’ll find a bedraggled weed, pluck it from the ground, sniff it and then offer it to me as a gift. Thanks to her appreciation for all things green, I’ve rediscovered the simple beauty of a dandelion. Sure, the scraggly, hardy flower is no rose, but it's pretty all the same and I've noticed it does have a pleasant, earthy aroma.
Simple pleasures rule in Madeline's world and she often makes me pause, whether I like it or not, to notice all the little things that I'd probably be blind to, if it weren't for her - the dried-up worm in the garage, the way the trees dance in the breeze, the crunching sound raw veggies make when you bite into them (“Big crunch!” she often exclaims after sinking her teeth into a carrot stick), the pearly suds in the bathtub...
Stopping to smell the roses isn’t always easy for me. I’m a doer. I too often define my success by what I’ve accomplished, by concrete accolades like a diploma or a publication credit. I’m perpetually in overdrive, tackling endless to-do lists with the same kind of fervor Madeline embraces when she's picking weeds. However, her nonstop wonderment is rubbing off on me and has made me think twice about all those canary yellow Post-it notes cluttering my life. Sometimes Madeline will ask me to play with Thomas the Train or to build a tower of blocks when I’m in the middle of a task like washing a sink full of dirty dishes. I’m often tempted to tell her that Mommy has to finish cleaning before she can come and play. Sometimes I do finish scrubbing off the grime, but more often than not, I tell myself that the dishes can wait, and I get down on my hands and knees and start to play.
2. Bend the rules.
I’m a bit anal about some things. My clothes are arranged by color in my closet. I spell check documents several times. I like to know what’s coming and to have a plan. I also have always thought there are certain “rules” we should live by. In my BC (“Before Children”) days, for example, I never would have considered eating a PB sandwich for breakfast or staying in my PJs all day unless I was sick. As a mom, I’ve done both of these things. We’ve also occasionally eaten dessert for dinner, played outside in the rain and jumped in mud puddles, thrown balls in the house, played on the hasn't-been-swept-in-four-days kitchen floor (at least you can’t see the counters and all the dishes and those aforementioned to-do lists from this vantage point) and not bathed for two days straight. Oooooo…I’m such a rebel! But you know what? My world hasn’t come crashing down just because I’ve been a bit unconventional.
3. Be silly!
I’m a silly person by nature, but being a mom has given me an even better excuse to act goofy. A theatre minor in college, I’ve discovered my inner Thespian again and love to act out Dr. Seuss books, hit myself in the head with a toy bat a la the Three Stooges or belt out “If You’re Happy and You Know It” at the top of my lungs like a crazed opera singer – anything to get a laugh out of Madeline and now Baby Rae, who recently started giggling.
These days, I have license to run around the house with a pot on my head and to bark like a dog. Though the neighbors may think I’m courting schizophrenia if they overhear my antics, life sure is a lot more fun when I can let loose and act a little silly. Some women embrace the whole “I am woman. Hear me roar,” image, but I much prefer to live by the mantra, “I am Mommy. Hear me laugh.”
4. Stop worrying so much about what others think of you.
At a recent well-child checkup for the baby, the pediatrician was discussing reflux medications when Madeline starting to break wind and let me tell you, it was some loud wind. She wasn’t being impolite. In fact, she quickly said, "’Scuse' me,’” but at this point in her life, she didn’t even know that public flatulence was something to be embarrassed about. I, on the other hand, felt my face flushing with heat.
I later told Madeline that making “beanies” was something we should try to do in private. “Why?” she asked. Honestly, I didn’t have a great answer for her and while I’m not suggesting we adults go around tooting everywhere, I do think we could be a little more like our kids and stop worrying so much about what others think of us. I know this is something I’ve always struggled with. What will the other residents’ wives, who aren’t at-home moms and are far more hip than me, think of the plain and old black dress I wear for a social gathering for Dave’s work? Will anyone like to read my blogs? What if people think I’m a horrible writer? If my toddler throws a fit at a play date or I let her eat a cookie, will the other moms think I’m a horrible mom or worse, that she's an abhorrent, little brat? You get the idea. Then there’s Madeline, who can show up at the grocery store wearing a royal blue Cubs t-shirt, polka-dot shorts and teal Crocs and think she looks great, read a really bad children’s book over and over like Scooby-Do and Aliens, Too (a gift from the grandparents) and not fear she’s risking her future admission into Harvard and, let’s not forget, pass very loud gas at the doctor’s office and not think twice about it. It’s really a breath of fresh air – minus the stench (sorry, I couldn’t help myself; I’m embracing the whole “be silly” lesson previously mentioned). Seriously, I’d have a lot more free time and energy if I stopped spending so much time wondering what others thought about me and just lived my life. We teach our children that God loves us no matter what, but do we believe that for ourselves?
And, finally, perhaps the greatest lesson of all that my two little souls have taught me is:
5. Be childlike but not childish in your faith.
Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Scripture often calls us to be more childlike in our faith and it's easy for me to see why now that I'm deep in the trenches of motherhood. Not only do my children help to lighten the load of my all-too serious, very adult and sometimes boring life, but I often find myself looking to my children as examples of humble trust. When Rachel Marie begins to cry, she trusts I’ll pick her up. When Madeline wakes up from a nightmare of imaginary killer bees, she puts her trust in me to make those buzzing beasts go away. If I tell her the bees are gone, she believes me. She doesn't ask questions. She has a blind faith in me. Similarly, God wants us to put our trust in him. "When I am afraid, in you I place my trust God, I praise your promise; in you I trust, I do not fear." (Psalm 56:4-5). Children do this so well. Whom do they call for when they're hungry, scared or hurt? Mommy or Daddy. Similarly, God wants us to call for him when we're in pain, confused or scared. And while probing questions can sometimes deepen our faith, as rational adults we can get way too caught up in the details. Sometimes all God asks us is to just believe in the mystery of the cross.
Of course, there’s a difference between being childlike and childish. When we don't get our way or when God doesn't give what us what we've petitioned for, we shouldn't throw tantrums. Instead, we’re called to continue to put our trust in God instead of banking on the things we think we want. Madeline hates it when I cut her grapes in half. "I’m a big girl! ‘Peas’ don’t cut!” she begs. But just as God knows what's better for us, I know it's not safe for a little one to eat whole grapes. She has to trust me that I have her best interest at heart. I need to do the same in my relationship with Christ.
Then there's the whole humility thing. A child has no real status. They have very little power or control in their life (except when you let them pick out and wear a horrid outfit that looks like Walt Disney threw up all over it); yet, they're also not afraid to say,"Mommy, pick me up." In this simple request, they are asking us to bear them up, to let them rest their weary legs, to comfort them. It's no wonder Jesus said, "Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18: 3-4). Sure, sometimes they, in particular toddlers, appear to be egomaniacs making impossible demands. But more frequently, I am awed by my kids’ ability to gaze outside of themselves for love and comfort. Each time Rae looks to me as a source of nourishment or Madeline reaches for my hand as we cross the street, I’m reminded that just as my kids aren't afraid to ask me for help, I should look to Christ for everything I need.