Loving Motherhood

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The past several months have been an amazing journey for me. I've been navigating the unfamiliar waters of homeschooling and a new network marketing business. To say I've been stretched would be a gross understatement, but I'm not sure I have the words to describe it all either.

It probably seems like learning to work a direct selling business and learning to homeschool my children don't have much of anything in common. But the one thing they do have in common matters. And it matters deeply. Perseverance matters.

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When I started homeschooling I spent a lot of time worrying about which curriculum would be the best fit and working up a schedule that would fulfill all of our various needs. And I wouldn't go as far as to say that those things don't matter at all, but if you can't stick with it when all of your best laid plans are lying in a heap on the floor under 18 loads of unwashed laundry, then you're not going to make it.

I impulsively joined a network marketing company. Well, I shouldn't say impulsively because the reality was that I felt prompted to do so. I didn't know why then, but I understand it more now. The company I joined was a naturally-based, anti-aging hair care company called MONAT. I have struggled for years with hair loss and after my first wash I knew why I'd felt that prompting. My hair has done a complete turnaround. It's phenomenal really.

But it's not just my hair that's completely changed. When someone tells you that network marketing businesses are personal development businesses, they're telling you the truth. As an introvert who absolutely dreaded the idea of selling anything, I spent a lot of time worrying about what to say and how to "get comfortable" doing something that seemed so against my nature. And again, I wouldn't go as far as to say that those things don't matter at all, but if you can't stick with it when your excitement for a product leaves you throwing up ridiculous amounts of information all over unsuspecting friends and family, then you're not going to make it.

As I've stumbled further along the trail in both of these endeavors, my characteristic stubbornness has turned into perseverance. Suddenly my mindless inability to quit anything has taken on tremendous purpose. That, my friends, is perseverance. It is one of the lessons that has entered my soul with perfect clarity.

I screw up every, single day. I get frustrated with my kids' lack of cooperation and I respond poorly. I teach a lesson that totally rocked in my mind, but ends up being completely worthless. The routine slips and our day looks like an unmitigated disaster. I see a friend who could totally benefit from a MONAT business and I approach it all wrong. Sometimes I sample and sample and sample our products, but don't see equivalent results.

But here's the thing. The value I've found in both of these endeavors is perseverance. I've learned to just keep going because I see something in the future that is much greater than all of my mistakes. And guess what? Sometimes the brilliant lesson goes off just how I planned. And sometimes, others see the same value in my business or my products that I do. Sometimes I see MONAT change a life just like it changed mine. Sometimes all of the chores get done and the schoolwork gets done and everybody is still smiling.

We work for the sometimes because perfection isn't ours to own just yet. There is value in the doing and the believing. There is value in endurance and dedication. You don't have to have extraordinary talents to succeed in business or homeschooling or life. The only thing you need is perseverance. Loads and loads and loads of it. Commit and move your feet. You'll find happiness and success beyond your wildest dreams.

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I was warned by numerous people that at first homeschooling would be hard. Words like detox and chaos and exhausting were thrown around. I felt like maybe the struggles with the transition period were slightly exaggerated. I felt like I was prepared for it. I wasn't.

I have pretty good kids. They're not perfect. Some days their energy levels are through the roof and sometimes they choose poorly. Sometimes they stress me out, but mostly life is good. So I was emotionally unprepared for the detox and the chaos and the exhaustion. By day three I felt nearly comatose.

Everybody was right about what they said. The warnings were appropriate. The truth is, I just couldn't have imagined it or prepared for it. I was surprised by the level of bickering, the complete lack of cooperation, and the deep down in my bones tired that I would feel. I felt like I was broadsided . . . by a barn.

This past week has taught me two very important things about our family's new homeschooling adventure.

We're doing the right thing. I felt we were doing the right thing when this decision was finally made and I'm even more certain of it now. The greatest opposition always precedes the greatest joy. The hardest battles fought lead us to the sweetest victories. I've been forced to remember that difficulty doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong. Difficulty teaches and it leads. Difficulty leads us to greater heights than where we originally stood.

We're going places. This family is on its way upward. I'm more certain than ever that this family will come through this more refined and more sacred. We'll swim through the chaos and the exhaustion, even if we just tread water for a while. We'll adjust and we'll change and we'll become better. We're on an uphill trek that will bless us on into the eternities.

So for those who have been asking how the first week went, the answer is probably hovering in the vicinity of awful and crazy. I will do things a little . . . or a lot . . . differently this week. My understanding of my purpose in all of this has deepened. My direction has shifted and my resolve has stiffened. Because even amidst the turmoil, I caught a glimpse of something that shows me exactly why I'm leading our family down this road.

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Onward and upward we go.

 

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It seems like everywhere we go the questions are the same. Kids are spoken to in terms of their grade level. People wonder if they're excited to go back to school. They always want to know which school they attend. Random strangers in public settings seem to always approach my children this way. I'm pretty sure it's always one of my first questions to new children I've met too. A child's education is such a huge part of their life that that's how we identify them and classify them. It's a conversation piece because they spend so much of their lives in an educational setting.

Lately we're fielding questions about who our kids' teachers are going to be this coming school year as well. Their friends want to know if they'll see them in class. I figured I should probably make some sort of formal announcement.

So the answer is me. This year, I'm their teacher.

I have enough reasons for this that I could write a novel. That list of reasons has grown and grown over the years. I've wanted to homeschool for a long time. Kyle hasn't had such a favorable opinion of the whole thing. Finally, he's agreed to let me go for it. He'd be the first to tell you that he's still not in love with the idea, but out of respect for me, he's letting my mom heart take a stab at it this year.

I know I don't owe anybody an explanation as to why we've chosen to educate our kids at home this year, but I also know that questions will still inevitably come. I'll spare you from the aforementioned novel's worth of reasons and just share with you my main one.

Every year when I would drive my kids to school on their first day, we would have a similar conversation. I would tell them that I didn't care what their grades were. As long as they did their best, that was enough for me. I cared about whether or not they were kind. Period. That's it. I never wanted to hear that they had made any other kid feel like less than they were. I never wanted them to participate in bullying another child or hurting another child. I never wanted to hear that they had been disrespectful to their teachers or anything less than polite. I wanted them to be honest, helpful, decent, and above all, kind. I care about my children's characters more than I care about calculus or reading fluency or social studies.

We are a busy family. We have five children with a broad range of interests. The majority of my children are gifted athletically. They love to play sports and I love to watch them to play. Because of those interests and talents, a typical day at our house looked exactly like this last year: bus ride, school, bus ride, sports, homework, and bedtime. That was it. No family dinner. No time to spend talking individually with my kids about their day. No time to build those characters I'm always so concerned about.

We've become a culture that worships busyness. We feel like the more activities we involve our kids in, the more opportunities they have for success. The time kids used to have to run wild and free, to explore, and to create are all but a memory.

We are also a family that believes in and worships a loving God. In this home we pray and read scriptures. In this home we learn about the character of the Savior of mankind and we try to instill those traits in our children and ourselves. We try to serve and to lift and to leave this world better than we found it.

So in a nutshell, we're homeschooling this year because I want our family life to look differently than it does. I want time to spend with my children teaching them about integrity, goodness, and kindness. I want to instill in them a love for God and the rest of humankind. I want them to have time to run around being silly and enjoying nature. I want baseball games that interrupt dinnertime to be irrelevant because we had breakfast and lunch together already. I want my kids to learn that when they encounter struggles academically or in any other way, that they have a family of supporters here to help and to lift.  I want my children to know that in their mother they will find someone in their corner who cares an infinite amount about who they are and what they choose to do with their lives.

Basically, this is me taking my family back.

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I didn't want to let today pass by without honoring my son, Hunter. I already told him how proud I am of him and I know that he hears me, but I'm not sure how much it actually sinks in. I hope that someday when he's an amazing, grown man that he'll read this and know how much I appreciated all that he was and how hard he fought to overcome his weaknesses. blog1

Hunter has battled anxiety since he was two years old. At least that's as early as I remember it starting. It alleviated some when he was 5 and 6 years old, but then it came back with a vengeance.

Most things make this fantastic son of mine anxious; playing sports, going to school every morning, taking tests, talking to people (adults and kids alike) that aren't his nearest and dearest, being in front of people, and trying absolutely anything new. He is anxious to the point of tears every time he walks to the school bus or out onto a baseball field or like this weekend, out into a 4-H show ring.

I have no personal experience with anxiety in any way and therefore I can't even imagine the level of panic or the insane emotions he must experience on ordinary days, let alone what he must feel on extraordinary ones. And I can only guess at the level of courage it takes for him to fight it. But he does. He fights it every day. Sometimes we push him to fight it and sometimes he comes out throwing punches all on his own.

When we moved to Naches Hunter wanted to join 4-H and show pigs. He has practiced and worked so hard for this weekend. It was his first time showing an animal.  blog2

He made the All Star Baseball team this  year and I cannot even express in words the breakdown he experienced before tryouts. He almost bailed and we cajoled and nearly forced him out the door.

But this weekend we didn't have to push. I could see the anxiety all over his face. The emotions raging through that tired boy were almost too much for him. He wouldn't even talk to me. If he had he would have cried. So he's moped around for two days fighting his own internal battle. But he's also walked into that show ring twice.

Today was a rough one. His pig ended up being in heat and there was a male pig that wouldn't leave her alone. It kept running her into corners making it fairly difficult for Hunter to show what he could do. I could see the frustration and the panic, but he continued to work. He came out of that ring with his head up.  blog3

I don't tell this story because it turned out perfectly or because he walked out of the ring with a miraculous comeback victory. In fact, it turned out a far cry from where he would've liked it to. But there my sweet 9 year old was . . . continuing to work until they told him to stop, braving every emotion he's working so hard to learn to control.

I'm incredibly proud of this boy of mine. This year I've watched him walk into a brand new classroom and sit down. I've watched him stand in a batter's box almost paralyzed by nerves. I've watched him victoriously walk to a pitcher's mound with mastered serenity and confidence. And now I've watched him walk into a show ring and give his all when everything went wrong.

I know that everybody loves their children as much as I do mine. And I hope everyone can find reasons to be proud of them. Today my pride in my son turned into an incredible amount of respect. I admire him for the internal and very emotional battle that he fights every day. I admire his goodness and his sweetness. And I very much admire his courage and his willpower to fight the battle that's fallen into his lap. He will forever have my respect. I can't even imagine the strength of the man that will leave my home in the not very distant future. I love you, Hunter.

 

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Lying about it would be futile. The reality is that I spend an enormous amount of time thinking about my children. I put a lot of mental, emotional, and spiritual effort into them. I worry over them, I pray for them, and I try to anticipate problems. I do my best to teach them the principles of courage and strength, obedience and faith.

Lately, as I've watched the state of this country spiraling out of control at an ever increasing rate I've darn near had a panic attack because of them. The political chaos, the rapid moral decline, and the attacks on our God-given freedoms leave me feeling almost desperately afraid when I focus on them too much.  And by too much I mean any longer than 3 minutes.

I've sat around wondering how my children are going to survive it. I've prayed for answers on how to help them survive it.

I didn't discover a magical solution, but I did remember a time-tested one.

There's so much more going on with a tree than what we see on the surface. The healthiest trees have root systems underneath the ground that are larger than what is visible. These trees have extensive and efficient tangles of roots that not only nourish them, but that also help all that is visible to withstand the blows. Trees make sure that there is the same amount of work, if not more, going on underneath the surface.

About 65 years before Christ, Helaman led an army of young, teenage boys to battle in defense of Captain Moroni's Title of Liberty. That Title of Liberty was flown throughout the land. It said, "In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children." This battle had raged on for years when these young boys joined the fight.

But even a man as faithful as Helaman was nervous about these boys. He didn't want to lose any of them in battle. However, his observation of them helped quench some of his fears. "Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it."

When the Lamanites surrendered as prisoners of war, Helaman went to count how many of those 2,000 boys he had lost."But behold, to my great joy, there had not one soul of them fallen to the earth; yea, and they had fought as if with the strength of God; yea, never were men known to have fought with such miraculous strength; and with such mighty power did they fall upon the Lamanites, that they did frighten them; and for this cause did the Lamanites deliver themselves up as prisoners of war."

History has taught me two incredible lessons. First is that even amidst incredible fear, deep roots of faith instill courage and hope. The faith of these boys didn't grant them some invisible force field that guaranteed their protection. But what their faith did do was give them the courage to fight. It gave them the courage to lose because truthfully, they knew that even had they lost that battle, they were still winning an even greater one. Their motivation to fight was greater than any possible outcome.

The second thing I've learned that has planted itself firmly in my heart is the incredible power of a faithful mother.

I have come to know that faith is a real power, not just an expression of belief. There are few things more powerful than the faithful prayers of a righteous mother. -Boyd K. Packer

So to mothers and fathers everywhere: Hang onto hope. We are not helpless. We don't have to sit idly by while a decaying world steals our children. We have power; power granted to us from on high; power to lift and power to save. The conversations and the prayers and the scriptures that are being shared in our homes will do more to combat the insanity that is occurring every day than any amount of worrying ever will. Be courageous. Be faithful. Make sure you leave no question in the hearts of your children about the reality of your faith or the power of the Savior of mankind to save. Stand on the winning side, regardless of how small that side becomes. Victory is certain. Just make sure there is more good happening underneath the surface than storm raging up above.

 

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Tanner: "Mom, I really have to go to the bathroom!"

Me: "Can you hold it for 20 minutes until we get home, buddy? You're a tough cookie, right?"

Tanner: "What's being tough have to do with it? Don't you mean brave?"

His response made me giggle, but then I got to thinking about what he'd said. I had twenty minutes while he squirmed in the backseat after all.

I thought about how many times I'd called him tough. I used the phrase when he didn't even flinch while watching his biopsy. I used it when he broke both bones in his arm when he was three. I said he was tough when he fell off of his bike and didn't cry. I used the phrase when he got punched or hit his head or scraped his knee. I used it when he bounced back after getting his feelings hurt. I was always telling this little boy that he was tough.

But my little boy is smarter than me. He's smart enough to know the difference between tough and brave. The only significance that toughness can claim is its durability; its ability to withstand the blows, whether physical or emotional. But bravery. Now there's something fine. Bravery is not ability but willingness. Bravery is the courage to do what is required or necessary or right, staring the unpleasantness or fear or discouragement directly in the eye.

I'm proud to say that I have a son who is not only tough, but immensely brave. And that bravery, that courageous spirit; will serve him well throughout his entire life.

As a society we value toughness. We encourage our little ones not to cry or to show any sort of emotion that we deem as negative. We tout impenetrability and insensitivity. We think that toughness makes us better and right.

Just think of the impact that a generation of youth who were taught to be brave instead of tough could have. Think of the force for good and the unquenchable power.

I had a an eye opening experience several weeks ago when I was in the grocery store with my older son, Hunter. We were just cruising the aisles, checking off our list. There was a man in one of the electric carts doing his shopping as well. Crutches rested on his cart and he had an extensive cast on one leg. He was examining the cereal and I could tell he was trying to stand to put one bag back in exchange for another.

My response was automatic: "Oh, here, let me get that for you."

He smiled and told me which one he needed instead. He expressed thanks and we exchanged pleasantries. When my son and I got to the end of the aisle, I was quickly surprised by Hunter's comments.

"Mom, you're a nice person," he simply stated.

"Well, thanks buddy."

"That must be why people like you. Helping that guy was really nice. That's what everybody should do, right?"

I just stared at him for a second. "Well, I hope that's what everybody would do. That's what I want you to learn to do. We help people that need us."

"Yeah, but that's not what everybody does. I'm glad I've got a nice mom." And off he went, back to business.

I just stared at him again . . . a little concerned that my 8-year old already understood that not everybody was a nice person and that there are far too many people who forego doing the right thing. Okay, and I might have teared up a little. I mean, that's the nicest compliment I've ever gotten from one of my children . . . and I'm pregnant, so lay off.

But I made a resolution right then and there. I decided that my children would never see their mother failing to be kind. Not because I didn't want to and certainly not because I was too busy. I was determined that they would have an example to follow. I've always told my kids that I'm not concerned with how smart they are or what they like to do or wear, but that I'm very concerned with the kind of people that they are. If they receive any praise from their school or church teachers, neighbors or friends, I want that compliment to be that they're kind and compassionate. That's it.

This most recent experience with Tanner has made me realize that I don't just want to hear that my children are kind, but I also want to know that they're brave. I find their toughness to be mostly insignificant. But their bravery . . . now that's something I value. I want children who stand up for what's right, even if they're standing there entirely alone. I want children who are kind even when everyone around them chooses to be mean. I want children whose hearts are sensitive enough to understand the feelings of others and who possess an intrinsic desire to serve and to lift, rather than to hurt and demean. I want kindness to be their trademark.

And mostly, I want bravery to be their most common descriptor. So instead of praising them for their athleticism or their intelligence or their success, I hope my children hear their parents constantly commending their bravery and their goodness. I can't imagine the influence of children who value those two things more than anything else.

I try to be honest in my writing. In fact, that's why I do it. It's an outlet for me and I sincerely pray that it brings hope and laughter to the other parents out there. I'd like to assume that all parents attempt to demonstrate the truth about parenting in their social and written interactions as well. I notice, however, a ton of rainbows and butterflies in most of the stuff I read and hear . . . and I've even noticed it in my own writing. For me that's because I am hopeful, my faith is firmly planted, and I want my readers to know that.

But I also want to make sure you know that sometimes I want to stab my eyes out with a fork. Sometimes I'm at my worst. And truthfully, sometimes I feel like I'm going to drown and can't possibly accomplish what's being asked of me, either perceived or literally.

You should know that I cried yesterday. You're not the only one. I cried for 15 minutes right in the middle of my day. I could pinpoint the straw that broke the camel's back, but I couldn't possibly share with you the mountain that got me there. This is my reality lately.

So I want to tell you something about reality while I squash the illusion that somehow our hope or our faith or our strength make us perfect.

The reality is that I have a six-year old little boy that has managed a complete flip-flop in his personality. He went from intensely sweet and logical to intensely mean, defiant and unreachable. That same little boy is sick and on medication that he would never normally be on . . . and will be for a long time. That little boy probably feels terrible and is not quite capable yet of expressing that in a constructive way. Heck, I'm not even capable of doing that on a consistent basis.

So the reality is that I weep for this little boy that I so fiercely love. But the reality also is that this new behavior pushes me to that edge where mothers and fathers make terrible decisions. Even understanding his pain and his fear, I stare into eyes that are so filled with defiance and anger that I go to that place. My eyes fill with that same defiance and anger (he probably got it from me, after all) and sometimes I explode. I don't react with love or patience or kindness. I equal the playing field. I protect my heart instead of his. That's the reality. Then I weep because I chose poorly instead of fighting the correct fight. You're not the only one.

Exhaustion is the reality. I have a two year old who has slept through the night twice. Twice. During her entire existence in our home . . . only twice. I would love to tell you that I am magically equal to the task every day, even after only 5 hours of inconsistent sleep, but I'm not. The reality is that I'm not always equal to the task. I'm exhausted. I walk around like a zombie. I fall asleep everywhere. And I don't accomplish half of what I plan or need to. That's the naked truth. There are dark circles under my eyes and my house could fairly be considered a disaster. This is reality. It's not just you.

In reality, you're going to run out of swimming diapers. But you're going to let your screaming toddler run through the sprinkler in her swimming suit anyway. And then you're going to be mad as heck when she poops in it. While you're attempting to clean that mess, she's also going to pee all over your bathroom floor. Sorry, folks, that's the reality. Your kid isn't the only one.

Your 5 year old is going to scream in a really high pitched voice. She's going to do this while crossing her arms and stomping her feet. And she's going to do it where there are a million judgmental people watching. Welcome to reality, my friend. It doesn't just happen to you. You have my word.

The reality is that we all get tired. We all make incredibly poor choices and wish we hadn't. We all get frustrated by the daily routine. We all get bogged down by things we can't control. We all hurt and make mistakes. We all get desperate. And I promise you you're not the only one who sits in the corner and cries.

But here's your hope. Perfect performance is not required of you. Perfect effort is. I'm hopeful, I'm faithful, and the reality is, I'm stronger than I think. This doesn't exempt me from making mistakes or being a total idiot, but it does plant me on the right road where the only direction is forward.

We have a loving God who has paid for every stupid thing I've ever done or will do. He did the same for you. I can fix anything. Anything. So can you. I can keep moving forward, even if a snail would look quick next to me. Sometimes I can run and sometimes I can only manage to crawl, but I can correct my course and give a perfect effort. Every day. I can do that. So can you.

I just need you to know that you're not the only one that silently sheds tears. You're not alone in making mistakes, however great or small. You're not alone in your exhaustion or your chaos. I'm there. So is the woman next door and the lady down the street. Everyone is there regardless of how they look to you. Remember that.

Remember that all of this has been paid for. It's all been fixed. You just have to give your best effort. You just have to correct and to try every day. I can do that and you can do that.

Forget the illusion that parenthood is running through fields of flowers and butterflies. You may find yourself in said field a time or two, but the reality is you're probably going to trip and your child is going to step in dog poop. That's just the reality. Just remember that the same thing happened to me.

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I know I've been absent from the blogging world for a bit. I didn't mean to be. Life just went a little wild there for awhile. And I've come out of that wild a completely different person than I was when I went in.

First of all, the husband, four kids, and two dogs are not news. They were here before, right along with all of the busyness that our little family entailed. We were doing homework, dishes, and laundry. We were working and coaching and running to baseball practices and serving.

I wasn't pregnant then, however, and now I am. I am all smiles about this, lest you were wondering. I've been waiting on this little baby and couldn't be happier.

In the past I have had the worst pregnancies you could ever imagine. They were so awful, in fact, that my husband was driven almost to madness worrying about what this one would bring. I am happy to report that I am a walking miracle and that my head has not been found in a toilet even one time. At least not yet and I'll take it. I'm about 10 1/2 weeks now and my head would have normally been permanently in a toilet for the past 6 weeks. I can't say that I'm avoiding the nausea, but I am gratefully skirting the extreme.

Sometimes when we do what we should, even if we're overcome with fear and apprehension, even if we think we know the nightmare that we're voluntarily jumping into, blessings rain down from heaven. They just do. And everything works out just like you wanted it to.

And then sometimes it doesn't.

Our son, Tanner, who's six, has been suffering from a skin "ailment" for several months. We made a few trips to the pediatrician where he was diagnosed with and treated for a staph infection and then scabies, all with no relief. Thanks to the recommendation of a friend, I insisted we see a dermatologist.

The dermatologist they referred us to wouldn't take our insurance (of course . . . that would be too easy) and so I went in search of a new one. My gratitude has multiplied as I realized that the one we found has been perfect for my son.

He looked at Tanner for two seconds. Seriously two. And he knew what it was. "He has PLEVA. I'm certain of it. But only a biopsy will tell us for sure."

"Wait. What? What's that!?"

"Well . . . let's do that biopsy first and then we'll talk about it."

He was sidestepping me. He was mercifully trying to spare me any panic. He didn't know me yet though and couldn't have possibly known that I would go home and immediately research the whole thing. That's what moms do. It's not his fault that he's not a mother.

Panic set in right along with the reality of the situation. Tanner's skin matched the photos exactly. No wonder the doctor was so certain. It was as if I was looking at photos of my own son. The words unknown cause and no cure and can mutate to lymphoma kept swirling around in my brain.

So I'm going to tell you what I've learned about PLEVA in the three weeks that it took to get a biopsy and definitive results. PLEVA (pityriasis lichenoides et varioliformis acuta) is a rare autoimmune disease. Researchers have several theories, but the cause remains unknown. There is also no cure. Symptoms are treated into "remission" and can come back any time his whole life.

The symptoms are basically little ulcers all over his skin (in Tanner's case they're on his extremities and face . . . his trunk is unaffected). He honestly looks like he has the most terrible case of chicken pox you'll ever see. But he doesn't. Mercifully, Tanner's lesions don't itch or burn like some people's do. They're just there. And mercifully, because he's only six, he's not concerned about the appearance of these yet although he did ask me before baseball practice yesterday if people would laugh at him if he wore shorts and a tee shirt. I told him they wouldn't. And I hope that that will always be true.

He has to go on antibiotics for three months, along with using a topical cortisone-type cream. And they hope that will send it into remission. Other options are steroids or ultra-violet light treatments or oral chemo drugs. Ironically, all of the treatments are technically pretty bad for a person under normal circumstances. This is where the risk of mutation comes in. A lot of people have no luck with treatment except going to tanning beds. Enter lymphoma. Some have luck only with oral chemotherapy (which if their PLEVA has mutated to lymphoma will mask it and it will go undetected).

All of this has bombarded me with a huge amount of sadness and what seems like an infinite amount of fear. Tanner's six. Only six. It's not fair. He's too good and kind and patient to have to suffer with this. What if he doesn't respond to treatment? A lot of people don't. What if it mutates? It so easily can. This is my son. Nothing could have prepared me for this. 

But as I've watched my sweet son endure this already and as I've offered up numerous prayers to heaven, I've learned a couple of things.

God is always listening. He weeps when we weep and He lifts our wounded hearts. He knows what course through this life is best for Tanner and He knows which course is best for me and my family. He sends us that way. And we have two choices. We can rise up or we can fall. I think our Father in Heaven stands there, holding His breath on occasion, while we decide if we're going to rise up and lean on Him. This family will follow Him. We will trust Him to take us down whatever road will ultimately lead us back to Him . . . regardless of how bumpy and hard that road.

I've also learned that something as simple as a good attitude eases burdens. It sounds simplistic and dumb, I know, but it's the truth. I was with Tanner for his biopsy. They numbed him and then cut a chunk out of his arm and stitched him up. Tanner thought it was the coolest thing ever and didn't even flinch. He'd "never seen so much blood coming out of a real person!" (apparently different than the puddles he'd seen coming out of fake people??) A few days later, Hunter hit Tanner's arm and busted one of the stitches. "Oh great. Now I only have one stitch, thanks to Hunter. At least it's not bleeding!" Oh sure, hey, and it's only one more scar to add to the dozens you're already going to have. Then they cut out the remaining stitch and  pulled it from his arm. He didn't move an inch. The nurse said that little kids normally have to be held down and squirm all over the place. "You've got a tough kid." Yeah, I know it. And his attitude and lightheartedness are going to make this whole thing that much easier. I've been able to smile at medical procedures where I'd prefer to sit in the corner and cry. I'm going to try to be more like Tanner. It'll make it easier on everyone.

Anyway, I guess I didn't exactly say it, but his biopsy was definitive for PLEVA. The disease is on a spectrum and he's testing in the mid-low range, which is a blessing. The doctor also said that his current biopsy showed zero signs of large cell lymphoma. He was extremely excited about that and so was this mother.

So for now we take this one day at a time. We place our hope right where it belongs, but also realize that the will of God supersedes all else. And we're good with that. I trust Him infinitely. And hey, I'm going to do my best to not blow up like a balloon while I'm at it (thank you, baby). In all of my previous pregnancies I've gained 50-55 pounds. I'm shooting for 45 this time since I'm all about a positive attitude and optimism these days.

The Miracle of Books I'm not a parenting expert. If I were, there wouldn't be fingernail polish on my daughter's bedroom wall . . . or a fitted sheet in my garbage can that was cut by scissors. You'd also probably be dazzled by my children's perfect manners and impeccably clean finger nails.

But despite our mistakes and occasional dysfunction, I have discovered something that helps things go right. It softens moods and inspires laughter. It helps bind me to my children and helps them find common ground with each other.

What is this miracle, you say? Books.

I know it might sound silly or so ridiculously simple that you won't believe me. But it's the truth. I read to my children. A lot. And when I do . . . magic. They pile up, they snuggle in, they giggle, and they find commonality. A day gone horribly wrong can turn out miraculously right with the words of a simple, children's book.

I was thinking a lot about this today. I have several kids not feeling well. There are some high-stress health situations that we're battling. Moods were edgy. Fights were frequent. Until Avery walked up to me and placed a book in my lap. "Read book," she stated simply. I picked her up and put her in my lap. "Thank you," she smiled (her new, favorite phrase . . . which is a huge improvement from her fascination with shouting "butt crack" every time I changed her diaper . . . and yes, I wish I was lying). I started to read Snowmen All Year by Caralyn Buehner. In seconds, Haylee was at my side, giggling about the snowman learning to dive and swim in the pool. Then Tanner started listening. Even Hunter propped his head on the back of the couch to look over my shoulder. A good book changed everything for awhile.

On days where everything else goes wrong, sometimes I forget that reading a book together can help solve it. I'm trying harder to remember. So as I was thinking about this today, I began to smile about some of my kids' favorites and I wanted to share them with you.

1. No, David! by David Shannon

No, David

This book will always be a favorite in this house. My kids snicker with delight over David's shenanigans. They love him. He's real. He makes mistakes. And he's loved.

2. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

Alexander Honestly, it's the same with Alexander. Real is funny. It just is. Even kids relate to it.

3. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff

If_you_Give_a_Mouse_a_Cookie

We love all of Laura Numeroff's If You Give books, but this was my favorite as a kid and so it's the one I always read to my kids. And hey, it's good for teaching cause and effect too.

4. Not That Tutu! by Michelle Sinclair Colman

not-that-tutu

This is an adorable, little board book that my girls love. Taylor is obsessed with wearing her tutu (which they can totally relate to, I assume). It's Avery's favorite book, hands down.

5. Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson

Bear-Snores-On

All of Karma Wilson's Bear books are excellent. My kids find every single one to be engaging. Plus, Jane Chapman is a fantastic illustrator, so there's that.

6. Mrs. Wow Never Wanted a Cow  by Martha Freeman

mrs wow My kids love her "lazy, crazy pets." They think this book is hilarious.

7. Can I Play Too? (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems

Can I Play Too Gerald and Piggie are favorites at our house. The illustrations are so expressive and really make the books great. This one is one of my boys' favorites. My 8 year old laughs hysterically every time we read it.

8. How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You? by Jane Yolen

The dinosaur books are great. And funny. This is one of my personal favorites.

9. Corduroy by Don Freeman

Corduroy I loved this book as a kid and my kids love it now. I don't even know what it is about the book, but they enjoy reading it over and over.

10. Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed  by Eileen Christelow

Five Little Monkeys We love the five little monkeys. They're adorable. Enough said.

I hope you and your kids can enjoy some of the same moments that we do as we read this books. And please, share your favorites with me! We're always looking for more great books to read together.

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Our culture is afflicted with a lot of problems. That should be obvious. But what doesn't seem to be as apparent is what I would consider to be one of the major downfalls of our society. There's a trend that's been developing over the past several years. We celebrate mediocrity.

We celebrate it in classrooms, on athletic fields, in places of employment, and even in parenting. We reward sub par behavior, work, and performance all for the sake of sparing people's delicate feelings. We act as if we're on a mission to artificially inflate the self-esteem and egos of every person with whom we come in contact. We're eliminating responsibility and effort, victory and defeat.

I could go on about this for days. I could lament over the "participation" trophies awarded to every child who picks up a ball or joins an athletic team. Sorry, participation is simply that. You didn't win anything and you don't deserve a trophy. I could complain about the high marks given to children when they put forth zero effort to accomplish a task. Oh, you can't write a grammatically correct sentence free of 'LOLs' or 'OMGs?' Great. A+ for you! I could ramble on about the "everybody's a winner" mentality that rages through our homes and schools. It's okay, little Johnny, it doesn't matter what you do, I'm going to tell you that you're the best no matter what and you're going to believe it. I could make myself sick over the number of people who deserve to be let go from their particular employment because of laziness or law-breaking or general non-performance. You failed to perform the duties of your employment, we're going to have to let you go. Discrimination! You just hate me because I'm (black, white, gay, straight, female, male, etc., etc.). 

See. I really could go on for days. I won't, but there is one aspect of this that I'd really like to address: the general lack of concern about mediocrity in motherhood (or just parenting in general).

I've read numerous articles and blog posts that tell women something to similar to this: "Okay ladies, let's stop beating ourselves up! Every mom is doing the best she can and we need to give ourselves and each other the credit we deserve!"

Uh, sorry, but no. By making these blanket empowerment speeches, what you're really doing is giving an excuse to every lazy, neglectful, abusive mother that exists.

Yes, there are a lot of mothers out there doing the best they can most days. But not all days and most certainly not all mothers. I'm all for ending the mommy wars that we hear so much about. I don't care if you use cloth diapers or disposable ones. It's none of my business whether you choose to nurse or use formula. If you've got the time to make your own baby food, more power to you. I think we can all agree that when it comes to these sorts of debates, every mother is making the choice that she feels is best for her and her family. It's nobody's business and placing judgment there is absurd.

But I hope we can also agree that there are many mothers who are doing far from the best they can. I hope we can acknowledge that there are children being hurt and ignored and mistreated.

And even more than that, I hope we can recognize the excuses behind this theory.

I'm sorry, but there are days when I don't do the best I can. I like to think that I give an 110% effort most of the time, but I don't do it every day. Sometimes I'm exhausted or upset or just plain don't feel like it. On those days my performance as a mother is merely adequate. That's it. I do the things I have to do and I ignore the rest. I let my kids watch too much TV so I don't have to deal with entertaining them. I throw frozen pizzas in the oven because I don't want to cook dinner. I read blog posts on the internet that justify my desire to sit on the couch doing nothing while my bathrooms get dirtier and my kids lonelier. That's not me doing the best I can. And I don't want people excusing my lack of effort.

We, as mothers, are not entitled to compliments or praise. Complacency has no place within this sacred role. Earn the praise you so desperately want to receive. If you yell at your kids too much (guilty), don't claim that you're doing the best you can and act like you deserve praise for it. You don't. Yelling is not praiseworthy. Take praise where it's due, but also make corrections where necessary.

Everything we do is not always good enough. We don't put forth our best efforts all of the time. And we shouldn't be rewarded with undue praise when we don't. It's far more beneficial and empowering to acknowledge our shortcomings and to work on correcting them. What good does it do anyone for us to proclaim that we're doing the best we can when we aren't? It's the plague of mediocrity and we're encouraging each other to be comfortable there.

No mother is perfect. This is all about effort. Your best effort is sufficient. It's all that is asked of you or required of you. But don't be satisfied with a puffed-up version of your motherhood. Acknowledge your mistakes. Identify your weaknesses and then give your best effort to turn them into strengths. Quit being satisfied with mediocrity and quit listening to fairy tale accounts of our perfection.

More than anything, let's take responsibility for our motherhood. Own it. Love it. Choose it. Take pride in it. And work at doing the best job you can.