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We have a very obstinate passionate toddler.  Avery actually reminds me of my son, Tanner, at this age.  Everything is high intensity.  Everything is felt on such a deep level that it's almost as if they can't control it.  Happiness, anger, sadness, frustration, silliness . . . emotions never hidden, but instead very much apparent to anyone within 100 yards.  Tanner has mellowed a tiny bit over the years, but his intensity of feeling is very much still him.  (Okay, honestly, he hasn't really mellowed.  He just no longer throws toddler-sized fits.  Everything else is still intense.)  So I have hope that this same flair for fit throwing intensity of feeling will simmer down in my now 2 year old also, but I'm currently not holding my breath.  Plus, you know, we have a new baby at our house, which I don't think helps my displaced baby.  AT.  ALL.

Avery

You don't believe me? Here's a list of things that have resulted in a screaming fit in the last 24 hours.  Sometimes hitting mom even coming all-inclusive.

  • I told her she shouldn't wear shorts because it was below freezing outside.
  • I didn't roll her jeans.
  • I rolled her jeans wrong.
  • We ran out of fruit snacks.
  • I wouldn't drive on a sheet of ice to go get her more fruit snacks.
  • She wanted more milk.
  • It wasn't her turn to take a candy cane off of the advent calendar.
  • An hour later it STILL wasn't her turn to take one of those candy canes.
  • She wanted more milk again.
  • I told her she needed to quit peeing in her Pull-ups and to go in the toilet.
  • I wouldn't give her her candy reward for going in the toilet because . . . well . . . she didn't.
  • I told her she couldn't have a granola bar because dinner was in 5 minutes.
  • She couldn't have her princess blanket at nap time because she peed so much in her sleep that she leaked on it and it was in the dryer.
  • Hunter wouldn't give her the pencil he was doing his math with.
  • I told her I couldn't read her a story until after I finished giving Hunter his math lesson.
  • I only read 3 stories and she wanted more.
  • I was nursing Parker.
  • I used the purple brush to comb her hair instead of the brown one.
  • She wanted to take a shower in my shower and I told her she had to wait until after I took the kids to the bus.
  • I made her get out of the shower.
  • I thought she was pointing at a different shirt than she actually was and took the wrong one off of its hanger.
  • Tanner took the last of the popcorn and she had to wait for another bag to be popped.
  • She wanted more carrots.
  • She didn't want to finish her carrots.
  • She wanted candy instead of lunch.
  • She didn't want to take a nap.
  • She wanted her door shut for her nap.
  • She wanted me to get her pajamas because there was something scary at her window.
  • She didn't want me reassuring her that there was nothing at her window.
  • She didn't want me fixing Parker's binky even though she gave it to him upside down.
  • I told her she couldn't have a sippy cup with raspberry lemonade because the pulp clogs the top.
  • I told her she couldn't hit Parker.
  • I told her she couldn't call Parker a bad baby.
  • I told her she couldn't sit on Parker while she smothered him with apologetic kisses.
  • I told her she had to go sit in her bed for hitting me.
  • I actually stood up to take her to her bed.
  • I had the nerve to really put her in said bed (at least 16 times today).
  • I opened my eyes and decided to breath today.

Now is it just me or could most of these things be resolved by a simple request or an ounce of patience?  Or a 2 year old's ability to make up her own mind?

What do I know anyway?  I'm only 35.

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I've been absent from the blogging world for quite some time. It's quite shameful really. But hey, I was pregnant (and not pleasantly so) and I had my miracle baby. That's a story for another day, however.

Today when the school called me to come and pick up my sick Kindergartner I was barely phased. Normally a wrench such as this thrown into my already chaotic days would have sent me into a hyper stressed sort of inward panic. I would've been the perfect picture of calm and collected if you had seen me, however, because hey, being outwardly calm is one of my talents. But today I really was calm. It didn't matter that I was trying to work. It didn't matter that I was in the middle of homeschooling my 8 year old. It didn't even matter that I'd just taken my newborn out of the bath and was nursing him mid phone call.  All was well.

Why, you say? Because Seattle Children's Hospital has entered my life, that's why. Talk about an ideal relationship. They're perfect. Or at least close enough to perfect that you can blindly put them on a pedestal for the remainder of your eternal relationship.

Tanner1 blog

If you've read my blog for long you know that Tanner, my 7 year old, was diagnosed with PLEVA back in March. It's a rare autoimmune disease with flare ups lasting for months (or forever) that make you look like you have the chicken pox. It leaves terrible scars and is fairly unpredictable. It can mutate to lymphoma and we were told there was no cure. His diagnosis tore at this mom's heart. It's a tough thing to hear about your child.

We tried 2 different antibiotic treatments lasting for months that did nothing but weaken Tanner's immune system.  He was fatigued and caught everything under the sun. And he still had spots. It was awful and frustrating.

Finally our appointment with Seattle Children's came (there is quite the wait to get into the place because let's face it, nobody breaks up with the perfect significant other). Tanner and I went on Tuesday. It was heavenly.

Our doctor was phenomenal and hopeful. She said that Tanner had quite the impressive case of PLEVA from the looks of his scars (not the type of impressive you want to be). She also said that treating it with antibiotics was basically worthless and the last thing she would do. She treats PLEVA with a low dose chemotherapy drug. He'd be on the drug for 1 to 2 years. It's immunosuppressive and so he'd have to go off of it any time he was sick in order to heal, but the lengthy use of the drug stops the flare ups and then is used as a maintenance drug for awhile. Slightly scary, but at least it's something that works.

And in even better news, she told us that she has seen PLEVA burn out. I stared at her blankly. What does that mean? It means she's seen it cured. Not all the time. Sometimes it lasts a lifetime, but she's seen it go away. You know what that means? HOPE. One of the finest feelings in existence. Hope gives people reason to believe and to have faith and in this case, to breathe easy.

Oh, did you think that was it? Sorry, no. Are you ready for the news even better than that!? She's never seen it mutate to lymphoma. NEVER. NOT ONE TIME. She's not saying it can't or that it won't, but she is saying that she's never seen it happen. I could've kissed her. I think she knew it too because she told me my mama heart could rest easy for a bit. She even told me what to watch for if it were to mutate (we were previously told that lymphoma and PLEVA would look identical and that it'd be tough to know if it had mutated). Oh, be still my heart.

So, yes, my son still has a rare autoimmune disease. And yes, it may never go away. There are all sorts of terrible things that could happen. But his doctor is hopeful and confident and she has a plan; an effective plan that has worked for her many times before.

Tanner currently has only one new spot on his leg. Unless it flares up and he gets more spots, he doesn't have to be on the medication yet. We can rest easy and not have to feel the panic of the  uncertain every moment of every day. And if things turn south we have someone we can call. Someone who knows what to do, someone who's done this before.

Things don't always turn out the way we'd like them to. Sometimes they turn out exactly opposite of our ideal. Sometimes our hearts break and sometimes hope seems just out of our reach. But sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes we're blessed with little miracles. Sometimes things take a positive turn. And sometimes God has prepared other people to improve our journey and make it easier.

Thank you , Seattle Children's Hospital.

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I've totally turned into THAT mother. You know, the one who seems to have zero control over her children because . . . well . . . she doesn't.

Letscutthecharade

I had a meeting at my house this morning. My oldest son, Hunter, informed me at dinner that during said meeting he ate twelve Otter Pops. Tanner was a close second at eleven. Haylee "only ate six" and therefore proclaimed that the boys were going to be WAY sicker than she was. I just stared at the children who wanted to make sure I understood their awesome level of restraint because they "only let Avery eat three."

This is AFTER I caught them trying to get more out of the freezer. The problem was that they weren't frozen yet. They'd eaten all of the frozen ones. Obviously. So they tore into the strands of liquid Otter Pops and exploded a total of five all over my kitchen. The sticky juice covered the inside of my freezer, the front of my fridge, the floor that I mopped yesterday, the kitchen counter, and my fresh stack of mail.

I, of course, as the responsible mother that I am, insisted that they clean up the entire mess themselves which explains why my flip flops stuck to the floor when I was attempting to cook dinner. It's also the only appropriate explanation for my blue freezer. Whatever. Maybe next month when I actually attempt to mop my floor again it'll stay clean for two days.

And I mean, is this really any worse than last month when I had to coax Tanner off of the roof of the local bowling alley? Not hardly. Besides, that wasn't his fault anyway. "Why'd they put a ladder on the building if they didn't want me to climb up there?" Good point, son. Or not.

Truthfully I don't know why I even pretend to have any sort of semblance of control.

I'm the mom who herds her children to the car, only to have Tanner on the roof of her SUV in three seconds flat. Threatening him doesn't help. He thinks it'll be fun if you speed down the highway with him clinging to the roof rack. He's strong after all. He "can hold on."

I'm also the mom who doesn't let her five year old have anything. Haylee informed (at the top of her shrieking lungs, might I add) that I hated her for not buying her another pair of shoes. She only has six pairs. And they're not the right ones. Oh, did you think that was in the privacy of our home or vehicle? No, sorry, that was in the shoe department at Kohl's where we were most definitely not shopping for her.

A lady I ran into at the mall that very day told me I was a brave soul. There I was waddling with four kids into Old Navy because Avery desperately needed new flip flops. Hers were hurting her feet and she tried to throw them out the car window. It was the only logical thing to do in her two year old mind. I didn't have the heart to tell the woman that my blood pressure shot through the roof just walking in there. She was inspired and felt that she could wrestle two kids in the mall if I could do four. I hope she didn't actually do it, poor soul. I thought about writing down the link for her to my "never go into another mall with your children again as long as you live" post. Instead I smiled and pretended it wasn't that bad.

Yep, I'm that mother.

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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 BooksI'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

AlexanderHonestly, 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 wowMy 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 TooGerald 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

CorduroyI 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 MonkeysWe 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.

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I'm not a very eloquent speaker, especially when the words are coming from my heart and not my mind. But those words that are written all over my heart flow from my hands with complete ease. It's always been this way. So sometimes I don't speak up when I should. And sometimes I'm not so great at defending and sharing the truth.

A couple of weeks ago I found myself guilty of both. I sat in sacrament meeting (our church's congregational meeting where we also partake of the sacrament) listening to people bear testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I knew I should get up. I knew I had something important to share. But I didn't do it.

I'm hoping to redeem myself today.

More than fifteen years ago I went through one of the hardest times of my life. One of my dearest friends was in a fatal car accident. The experience shook me to the core, both emotionally and spiritually. And I'm ashamed to say it, but I ran. I ran away from everything that I knew to be true. I turned my back on my Savior and the principles of the gospel. It was more than I could handle.

I spent a couple of miserable years living my life that way, but through God's loving mercy I found my way back. And not only did I find my way back, but I did it with a much deeper understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the plan of our loving Father in Heaven. My foundation was solid. And I've been unshakable ever since.

But recently I found myself in that place again. The details are very different, but the feeling of despair was the same. I felt my spiritual knees buckle and I knew I couldn't stay on my feet. I had done all I'd been asked and I knew I couldn't give one more thing. I'd reached my limit. My strength was gone. I felt myself giving up. I decided I was going to turn my back and run.

The difference this time was that I could hear how crazy I sounded. Even as I uttered my feelings of despair out loud I knew it wasn't right, but I couldn't shake it. Very thankfully, I had the sense to inform my Father in Heaven this time. Our relationship is such that I speak with Him frequently and my natural reaction was to tell Him every detail of the pathetic situation I found myself in.

So I did. I cried. I begged. I asked Him where my miracle was. I told Him that I didn't have the strength to do one more thing . . . whether He was the one asking or not. I told Him I was done.

He responded almost instantly as a scripture flashed into my mind. " . . . peace be unto they soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high . . . "

Well, sure. But those words were directed to Joseph Smith. THE prophet of the restoration of the gospel. He was special. He was stronger. 

Essentially I ignored the direction. I went about my business as usual, but with a feeling of desperation. I could see God's hand leading and helping everyone around me. But I couldn't see His hand extended to me. That scripture kept coming back to my mind and finally, almost screaming to myself, all of the despair came pouring out.

Is that supposed to make me feel better!? Joseph never got a reprieve. Not in this life anyway. His "small" moment lasted all of his shortened life. I can't do that. I'm at my limit. You're asking me to do more than I'm capable. I'm NOT strong enough.

My loving Father in Heaven answered instantly again on my behalf. Firm words came into my mind. Yes, you are! Hang on. Help is on the way.

I stopped dead in my tracks.

I don't know if any of you have ever passed out. It's only happened to me once, but as I was about to go down, I remember someone grabbing me underneath my arms and holding me up before all went black. I felt that way again. It was almost as if I was literally being held up as my spiritual knees buckled. I was strengthened. My situation had not changed, but my capacity to endure it had suddenly increased because I had an extra set of hands lending support. I felt a small glimmer of hope. It was real.

Look, I know that everyone tells you that God won't give you more than you can handle, but they're mistaken. He absolutely does. He has to. It's the only way He can help us to realize our need for His strength and mercy. It's the only possible way for us to learn how to rely on Him instead of on our own limited capability to endure the trials of this life.

We will absolutely be pushed until we break, whether once or multiple times. And it's at that breaking point that we make a decision. We decide whether we're going to run or whether we're going to let the Savior of mankind lift us up. If we can muster up even enough faith to shout at our loving Father in Heaven, telling Him we can't make it, telling Him that we feel ourselves quitting, help is on the way.

I bear my humble witness that you will be lifted in your times of direst need. These times of desperation are designed to reveal the loving power of God. They're there to bring light to the perfect Atonement of our perfect Brother. These times come to help us understand that we need Him. They're there to show us our weakness . . . and then to show us our strength when yoked with His mighty hands.

So if today is that day for you, the day you're certain you're going to drown, please trust me when I tell you to reach out your hand. Even if you can't see through the pain or the haze to know that someone is there waiting to grab it. Just reach out your hand. Even if you think it's the last thing you'll ever be capable of doing. And then feel free to cry tears of joy when you realize that the weight has lessened because someone else is helping to carry that load.

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is an awe-inspiring reality, His gospel the power of God unto salvation. Trust in Him. And hang on for help is most surely always on the way.

"Remember when you used to feed Avery with those?" Haylee blurted out while pointing at my chest.

"Ummm, yes. Be quiet, please."

"And remember how she used to bite them!?" Giggle, giggle, snort.

Apparently this is the sort of discussion five year old girls have at places like, oh I don't know, Cub Scout Pack meeting. I'm glad it was our first one. I mean, we wouldn't want people to think our children were polite or appropriate. Luckily we were surrounded by friends who didn't turn around or bat an eye, so either we have really nice friends or ones who were completely engrossed in the impromptu skits. Okay, or friends who are completely used to the insanity that is Haylee.

Whatever the reason, her declaration still sent me into a panic. You know the kind. The ones where you do anything you can to distract them for fear they'll launch into another embarrassing anecdote.

She turned five yesterday. This has sparked some sort of insane obsession with humor. She suddenly thinks she's old enough to tell jokes as opposed to just being funny because she's, well, five.

"Hey Mom, can I have a sip of that?" she asks while inhaling a Dilly Bar at Dairy Queen (she was referring to my lemonade chiller).

"Uh, no. Eat your ice cream."

"But I'm SO thirsty!"

"Too bad."

"But you don't want your Birthday girl to die, DO YOU!?" Giggle, giggle, snort.

Well, no, so if you pass out I'll go get you a glass of water. I didn't say the words out loud. She'd probably tell people. So instead I just stared at her. Okay, and I laughed. But I wouldn't want anyone thinking I was so obsessed with my lemonade that I let my Birthday girl pass out from excessive thirst. Would you? She ended up drinking like a third of my lemonade.

Why do I suddenly feel like I'm being manipulated?