Welcome to my circus.

July 24, 2017
by Maralee

I Don’t Argue with Toddlers

I have been parenting toddlers constantly for about a decade now. And I am still of sound mind and body. It’s kind of a minor miracle.

There’s a lot I’ve learned in interacting with the 2-4 year-old crowd that has made my life easier and less stressful than it used to be. There were hard lines I used to draw with my first toddler that now seem so much less important with my sixth. Schedules have had to become more flexible, the list of fun/educational/goofy songs I have memorized has increased exponentially. I have learned to let go of some things and hold fast to others. And through it all, there is one phrase that has become my mantra:

I don’t argue with toddlers.

I have seen way too many adults get trapped in this kind of frustrating interaction with their toddlers:

Child: Mommy, that horse green!

Mom: The horse we saw yesterday? No, Sweetie. That horse was white. Remember?

Child: It GREEN. That horse GREEN! 

Mom: NO. IT. WAS. WHITE. Horses can’t be green so it wasn’t green!

And then much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensues.

I’m just over it. I do not have to be the fact police for my toddler. And frustratingly enough, there are many times when I’ve picked a fight with a toddler only to realize I didn’t understand them clearly and they WERE right in the first place (“Oh! You mean his LEGS were green from the wet grass. . . “). That is a humbling experience I have come to dread. So I just don’t argue with toddlers. I’ve developed lots of go-to phrases to help me avoid arguments:

“A green horse? That would be funny!”

“I didn’t see a green horse! Did you see one? The one I saw was white.”

“Have you seen a green horse before or was this your first one?”

“You saw a green one? I want to see a purple one!” 

I’m just not going to waste my breath trying to “win” an argument with someone who has nothing better to do today than start arguments about nonsense. When I do that, I’ve just dropped down to the toddler level and that makes me feel like a crazy person. My frustration will ultimately do more damage to our relationship than it’s worth to try and win that argument.

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July 20, 2017
by Maralee

To Maralee on her Wedding Day

Hey Beautiful!

Today is a big day for you. I wish I could give you the lessons I’ve learned in 15 years of marriage, all packaged up pretty like the china and mixing bowls you’re getting today. I wish I could be there to assure you everybody will like the cake and your mom won’t cry too much and none of the groomsmen will pass out and nobody will step on your dress and you won’t have to use the bathroom in the middle of the ceremony. The wedding is going to be beautiful and it will all run smoothly, although you’ll hardly even notice.

You’ve been weeping your way through TLC’s wedding themed shows for years, dreaming about this day. You have bought into the hype that this is supposed to be the most important/beautiful/special day of your life and I wish I could just relieve you of that pressure. This day is actually about a legal and spiritual process that connects you to your husband, come what may. It is also a day your parents spend a lot of money to throw a party for their friends and relatives and a handful of your friends, too. As much as TV tells you this day is about celebrating your love, that’s only partially true. Sure, everyone is there to witness your commitment to each other,  but they’re also there because weddings are essentially a family reunion where people give you toasters. I know that’s not what anybody talks about when they’re planning their “dream wedding,” but it’s just true. Someday you’ll be at the wedding of a relative you just barely know, but you came because it was one of the few chances you get to see Aunt SoAndSo and you pay for that opportunity by buying a tablecloth and in return you also get cake. It all works out.

(15 years later. Still choosing each other.)

So try not to stress out about the whole thing too much. The wedding matters way less than you imagine it will. Nobody is actually looking at the table decorations and judging you. And if they are, why in the world did you invite those people? It will be happy and it will be beautiful, but the emotions you feel right now won’t hold a candle to the love you’ll feel for that man beside you the day someone hands you your son. There are bigger days coming for you guys. Days that are much more about YOU and your love. And you won’t have to worry about how you look, if everybody else is having a good time, and how much the cake cost during those days. In as many ways as you can, let your parents have this one. After all, they’re paying for it.

But here’s what nobody else can tell you– there are going to be days you’re tempted to regret what happened here, and it won’t have anything to do with how you wore your hair. This marriage commitment is no small thing. This is not just a party to show the world your love. This is not just a moment to legitimize your relationship. This isn’t about getting tax benefits. This is about joining yourself to this man you’ve chosen.

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July 17, 2017
by Maralee

When I am in my Thirties, I Will Wear Red Lipstick

I wore red lipstick yesterday. It was an accident. A friend gave me a bag of make-up and lotions she didn’t want (in every group of friends there’s always the one who will be happy to take your unwanted things and in every group of friends I AM that person) and I didn’t realize the shade of lipstick I was applying was a true, bright red. And I was on my way to pick-up my older kids from Vacation Bible School. It was not exactly the moment for aggressive make-up experimentation, but I was running late enough that I didn’t have enough time to undo what I had done.

I walked out of the bathroom and my three-year-old said, “You look so beau’full, Mommy.” That helped me work past the nerves I felt about being THAT mom, leaving bright red lipstick kisses on her future Kindergartener’s cheeks while picking him up. Something about the decision to wear red lipstick felt ostentatious. It felt extravagant. And these are not words that typically define me.

As you would imagine, outside of my toddler, nobody noticed or cared. Or if they did, I didn’t notice or care. And I will likely wear that lipstick again because it did something to my soul.

When I caught sight of myself in the mirror, I was reminded of one of my favorite poems I first read in high school. I remember reading “Warning” which starts, “When I am old, I will wear purple.” and with line after line, I felt this strong sense of identification. (Here you can watched the author read it herself.) When God was handing out “wild oats” for people to sow, he skipped me. I knew even in high school what she meant by “the sobriety of youth.” I have been a rule follower for as long as I can remember. I love a good rule. I love conformity and duty and doing what’s expected. But I have also always longed for the day when what’s expected of me would become a little less conventional.

I thought maybe that would happen with motherhood. When I became a mom, could I start wearing oversized puffy painted sweatshirts and bulky, highwaisted jeans? And I don’t mean ironically. Could I sometimes do school drop-off with curlers in my hair, hidden under a plastic cap? Could I be proud of my killer cupcake recipe and stop worrying about ridiculous things like “thigh gaps?”

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July 14, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

Norwex- Where do I start?

If you are new to Norwex it is really easy to get overwhelmed by the products. DON’T. The whole point of cleaning with Norwex (for me, at least) is to make your life easier and nobody needs overwhelming product stress. Some of us are very black and white thinkers and if we decide we’re going to eliminate chemicals from our cleaning, then we think we need to go ALL IN and buy all the stuff, but then it’s too expensive and we aren’t sure how to take care of it, so we just decide to do nothing. Don’t do that. Just start small. And I’ll tell you exactly what you need to get.

For a full year the only Norwex product I owned was the EnviroCloth and the Window Cloth. You can buy them together and they are the perfect way to see if this cleaning system is right for you. Currently, they are 32.99 (there will be a small price hike coming in August, so now is a great time to try it out before that happens). I am the cheapest of cheapskates, so spending that kind of money on a cleaning product was hard to justify. If that’s your hang-up, remember you will no longer be buying glass cleaner of any kind. I have a half-empty bottle of glass cleaner under my sink if anybody wants it because I literally never use it. I also use way less paper towels. I don’t use any kind of counter cleaner bleach spray product for my bathrooms or kitchen counter tops. I am cleaning with water and that’s it.

When I figured out what I was saving by not having to buy those products (and not having to go to the store for them, not having to try and remember what we were running out of, not panicking when we DID run out of it), that was worth it to me. It was also worth it to me to have a cleaning product my kids could safely use. My ten-year-old cleans the bathroom and he does a great job. The three-year-old begs to wash the mirrors and windows. And when she washes them, they actually look clean and streak-free. Shocking.

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July 13, 2017
by Maralee

5 Tips for Raising a Future Douchebag

Every once in a while I read a piece that sticks with me and seems to come up in conversation regularly for months afterwards. This post about why “douchebag” is a powerful word is one of those pieces. It is a vulgar word and not one I use in my daily life, but I do think there’s a time and place for it.

As adults (and especially as women) that word conjures up a certain picture of men we have met, dated, have worked with or were friends with. These guys are not the men we hope our sons will become, but we know that d-bags had moms and were once kids themselves.

Sometimes when you’re watching kids play at the park, you can see the child who has d-bag potential. Your kids come home and tell you about interactions with classmates and while you would never introduce that word to your child, you have a pretty strong feeling that’s the kind of kid they’re dealing with. And then there are the moments you see d-bag tendencies in your own kids and it breaks your heart a little.

I don’t know if d-bags are born that way or if it’s entirely a product of how they were raised and socialized, but I’m doing my best not to raise one. But if you want to create your own future douchebag, here’s where I think I’d start.

Allow him to treat you like garbage. The two-year-old who screams at you to open his fruit snacks becomes the 8-year-old who screams at you to give him your phone, who becomes the 12-year-old who screams at you for embarrassing him by parking in the “wrong” spot at school pick-up, who becomes the 16-year-old who screams at you for not paying his traffic ticket. Don’t imagine this kid is going to treat the waitstaff with kindness or his wife with tenderness or his children with compassion if he thinks it’s perfectly okay to treat his mother like something he stepped in. You are THE FIRST woman in his life and if believes you were created to serve him and stay out of his way, you better believe he is going to have some douchey tendencies for the rest of his life. If that’s what you want, be sure to keep babying that kind of behavior and apologizing for being a human when your humanity comes into conflict with his desires. Continue Reading →

July 12, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

A Human Chain of Beachgoers and The Church

I don’t know if you happened to catch the news about the 80 beachgoers who formed a human chain to rescue a stranded family out in the ocean. It’s a beautiful story and worth your time to check out. And it reminded me of the church.

I know there are lots of people who have been wounded by the church. They have found themselves struggling out there against the current of life and begging for help. They’ve found the church to be stubborn and unfeeling– standing there on the shore yelling things like, “Why’d you get yourself into that position? Just swim harder!” And then there are the churches that function more like the police officer who jumped in to help, but realized how desperate the situation was and went back to shore to wait on a boat. Those churches would like someone else to clean you up a bit before they have to get their hands dirty. Can’t the government help you out of your situation? Wouldn’t counseling fix it before you come here with your problems and weirdness? Those churches would love to help, but maybe just not right now and not with that particular problem.

Then there’s the church I’ve come to know and love. They are a group of people who function as one body. They see you struggling and when you yell and wave for help, they feel compelled to do something. There are those who stand on the shore and reach out their hands because that’s what they can offer. There are those who step a bit into the shallow water and do what they can. And there are those who risk it all to reach out to you before you sink beneath the waves. That body all depends on each other to be strong, to know their role, to keep the goal in mind, to not let fear shatter their resolve.

I have been in every role in that process. I have been stranded out there in the water with my family. Scared. Isolated. Not sure who could help us. I have been the one on the shore, not sure I can be a help, but willing to do what I can. I have been the one standing in the shallows, offering what I can like the widow offering her one coin for God to use. And I have jumped in– all in– to rescue someone in need. This is what we do as the church when we’re functioning as God intended us to.

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July 10, 2017
by Maralee

A Trauma Mama Watches “Moana”

I’ve got a confession. We watched “Moana” as a family for the first time on Saturday. . . and then we watched it four more times over the next three days. This movie clearly resonated with each member of our family for their own reasons. As the mother in a family where trauma is an ever-present part of our story, it wasn’t hard for me to see why.

I was raised with Cinderella and Belle as my childhood companions. Disney movies have always been a chance to see a reflection of myself. . . if I were constantly accompanied by woodland creatures through my magical, musical adventures. I saw myself through a mirror of fantasy and romance and while watching “Moana” I found myself once again looking for me in the story. I saw her in a brave little girl, in an understanding mother, in an eccentric and adventurous grandmother. I was struck by the beauty and complexity of the women in this movie.

But nothing compared me for my sense of identification with Te Fiti. (*spoilers ahead*)

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July 6, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

If You Give a Foster Family a Chicken Dinner

If you give a foster family a chicken dinner,

They might have extra time to spend with their foster child.

When they have extra time to spend with their foster child,

They’ll spend it taking a walk, looking at flowers.

When they spend it on a walk looking at flowers,

They learn more about each other because they aren’t feeling stressed by dinner prep.

When they learn more about each other because they aren’t feeling stressed,

They are able to work on forming a healthy attachment.

If they’re able to work on forming a healthy attachment,

They’re creating a foundation for lifelong relational health.

If they’re creating a foundation for lifelong relational health,

Sometimes it feels too risky and the foster child will push them away.

When it feels too risky and the foster child pushes them away,

The foster parent will need to work through their own feelings of rejection and lovingly draw closer to the child.

When the foster parent can lovingly draw closer to the child, the child may realize they are committed even when things are tough.

If the foster child realizes the foster parent is committed, they may feel safe enough to open up.

When the foster child feels safe enough to open up, the foster parent can respond with empathy and can help meet their physical needs.

When a foster parent responds with empathy and offers to meet their physical needs, the child may feel ready to eat.

And when the foster child feels ready to eat, she may ask for a chicken dinner.

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June 28, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

My Maybe Last Baby

My “baby” is really not much of a baby. While he isn’t yet three, he’s larger than any of my other kids at this age and just wants to be one of the big kids. He’s almost out of diapers (hallelujah), feeds himself at every meal and is even starting to put away his laundry just like his siblings. He’s taking steps towards independence and at each stage I don’t know whether to celebrate or cry. Or maybe both.

He’s my last baby. Maybe.

And this is what makes it so hard. After ten years of diapers and middle of the night feedings and “will this fever go down or should we go to the ER” questions, my baby days are coming to an end. I think.

If I knew this was the end, I would get rid of all the baby clothes and supplies. I would rest easy knowing the midnight feedings are never coming back to haunt me. I would stop reading up on new guidelines on infant feeding and sleep recommendations. I would feel secure that we could plan family vacations a year from now or know youth sport schedules aren’t going to conflict with morning nap times. I would grieve that that special stage of my life is over. I would shut the door on this baby time. I would celebrate a job well done. I would move on.

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June 26, 2017
by Maralee

How Does She Do It? Norwex. (my “keep it clean, stay sane” secret)

My cleaning habits have gone through some distinct stages:

  • The “a bleach for every season” stage: When we were houseparents in a group home, I felt compelled to use some pretty harsh cleaning products to battle back against the germs and filth of raising a bunch of teenage boys. We had to have our home approved by the health department through random inspections (I’m not joking), so my goal was to be as clean as humanly possible at all times. The goal of the boys was to wipe peanut butter on the counters and pee indiscriminately AT the toilet instead of in the toilet. It was a war I felt I could only win with the help of major sanitizing products.
  • The “cleaning with ingredients you could also use to make a salad dressing” stage: When we left the group home (with just one toddler) I decided to only clean with vinegar, baking soda, salt and olive oil. I made my own detergent (both for the dishwasher and the washing machine) and felt great about having cleaning products that were eco friendly and safe for my little ones to be around if they wanted to help.

But the more kids we had, the more I found myself moving back into the bleach stage. As much as I wanted “safe” products, I didn’t feel like I could get the cleaning power I needed without harsh chemicals. If my lungs didn’t burn a little when I was done cleaning, I didn’t feel like I had done a thorough job. That’s bad, I know. I also found myself banishing my kids from the house while I cleaned because the chemicals were so strong, which means I wasn’t teaching them how to help or requiring they be involved in the process.

But then I discovered Norwex. I was a total skeptic/nonbeliever when a friend (THANK YOU!) first gave me an envirocloth and polishing cloth to try. In fact, they sat unused for weeks because somehow just cleaning with water seemed too complicated. When you’re used to burning the skin off your fingers tips or having the house wreak of vinegar, the idea of straight water and this cloth being enough to handle the tough jobs just seemed ridiculous. Cleaning is supposed to be hard, right? Isn’t that way they pay us the big bucks to do it. . . Oh, wait. Nobody is paying me the big bucks, so maybe simple is better.

I watched some videos about how the products worked and now I’ve been a fan of them for over a year. Here’s why:

-They save me money. I am no longer buying window/glass spray at all. No dusting spray. Less paper towels. No sink cleaner or counter products.

-They save me time. Just grab the rag, turn on the water, wipe the surface. Nothing to spray and then wipe off.

-My kids can use them. My oldest (age 10) is now responsible for cleaning the bathroom and he’s capable of doing a great job because the products are so simple to use. I never worry about him injuring himself or leaving dangerous products out where other kids could get to them.

-THEY WORK. My stainless steel appliances have never looked shinier, my glass looks great, my toilets are actually clean.

-My family is healthier. My lungs aren’t burning, which is nice. And totally anecdotally, I can say that we’ve been less sick since we started using Norwex. I can rub the envirocloth on my light switches, star rails, and doorknobs for a quick way to take care of germs. I don’t know if that’s why we’ve been healthier, but it sure could be.

Lots of people use Norwex because the products are “green” and they want to be more environmentally conscious. That’s great! But if that’s not your main motivation for looking for a change in your cleaning products, that’s fine, too. Norwex is much more than just good for the environment. It’s good for my wallet, my time, my kids and my sanity. My own experiences with that reality are why I decided to become a Norwex consultant. Continue Reading →