Staying Balanced

We are well into January 2017 and I’m happy to say I’ve been creating a more balanced schedule for my little family.  Not only do I verbalize that our priorities are God and family,  we are walking in it day to day so far this year.

It tends to happen every fall that we become consumed with our outside activities as the girls prepare for The Nutcracker and Southern Region Oireachtas (a regional Irish Dance competition).  One of the dance schools is an hour and a half commute so in addition to practice time, add three hours to every time we go, which had been 3-4 times per week, 15-20 hours per week including several Sundays.  The time spent being an Irish dance mom is equivalent to a part time job! The fall spins and spins until we have 3 weekends in a row of big events in December:  Oireachtas, then The Nutcracker and then a piano recital.  Becoming concerned that by supporting their involvement in these activities I was warping their Christmas memories, I suggested to the girls that next year we not participate, instead just relax all of December and see if we like it.  They rebounded with a unison,  “No!  These are part of our Christmas traditions!”   The week of Christmas and New Year we do slow down to reflect on our Savior’s birth with other traditions and enjoy times with family.   To be honest I can’t imagine going a year without The Nutcracker or hearing them prepare for the Christmas piano recital, and, my daughter has worked so hard over the years in Irish dance and is on the verge of making a goal that I can’t take it away from her now.

However, Christmas break and quality time at home helped me to recognize how far I had let us stray from keeping our family priorities.   As I started making our January activity schedule, I focused with two things in mind – God and family.

I know there is more to being a Christian than attending church and I can understand missing occasionally, but missing was becoming the norm rather than the exception for us this past fall. We will not be missing church or relying on their online video service,  when we only live 20 minutes away, to make sure a daughter can attend a required practice.

Having lost my father at an early age, I can’t purposely keep my girls from spending quality time with their dad as they grow.  Research has shown benefits to eating nightly family dinners.  While due to his work schedule we can’t do it every night, we will eat together more often than not.  We will not be out at activities while my loving husband, their devoted father, is home alone eating dinner.

Will this negatively impact their achievement level in activities?  I don’t know.  Time will tell.  (There are benefits and life lessons to be gained their chosen arts, but that’s a topic for another time.)  I do know that years from now if I have a Sugar Plum Fairy or a Championship dancer, it means nothing if they have not grown closer to God or if they have missed out on sharing their daily lives and routines with their Dad.

Please wish me well as the year continues.  I know next fall will come and I may have to say no to extra team activities due to scheduling concerns.  I know there will be times I’ll need to be a little more flexible,  but overall, I’ll need to keep the big picture in mind and stay balanced.

 

Joyfully Thankful

It has been  a custom in our family to try to avoid all things Christmas until after Thanksgiving dinner.   We don’t wear Christmas themed clothes or sweaters until after Thanksgiving.  We don’t listen to Christmas music until we put up the tree the day after Thanksgiving, which is our tradition instead of joining the craziness of Black Friday shopping.  The girls are not to start talking about what they want for Christmas. (This never sticks, and as the  main gift shopper a little discussion about this early on is helpful.) Even I would do my part by not ordering a Peppermint Mocha or buying Peppermint Bark until after Thanksgiving!  My husband and I made this effort with the best of intentions to be sure our girls were filled with gratitude before joining in with the commercialism “I wants” of the Christmas season.

This year seems different. When the girls weren’t with me, I admit, I have already had a few Peppermint Mochas while enjoying conversation with friends.  A few days after Halloween I heard  Christmas music coming from upstairs.  I went up and the oldest quickly turned it off. With a smile on my face I told her she could leave it on, but while pointing my finger told her to keep it in her room.  Guess who decided to stay in that room with a Pandora Christmas station playing and help her put away her laundry?!?!  My little one excitedly played her favorite Christmas CD in her bedroom.  A few days later we were listening to Christmas music in the family room and in the kitchen.  It’s not constant.  It’s not frequent.  It does bring joy.

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I don’t think it’s completely wrong to experience a little early some aspects of the wonderful, miraculous season that is Christmas. My husband isn’t even complaining about it or expressing concern that we aren’t taking time to be thankful first.  The girls seem to know how to minimize their toy catalog gazing and discussions.  When they do discuss, because I have asked for planning purposes, the conversation is about a gift they want for the two of them to SHARE. They have favorite traditional carols which remind them of Christ, the true gift of Christmas. They are thinking ahead about what gifts to give to others.
Why has it changed this year?   Nothing has changed for the girls other than I am not stifling their Christmas spirit. What has changed for me?   I think it has something to do with the events over the past few months in our national and world news.  We are all in need of the extra joy and love the Christmas season brings. We need Christ every day, but it seems as a society we naturally think of Him more at Christmas.  We need to keep our focus on Him in these trying times of our world.

We have not forgotten Thanksgiving.  We take time to give thanks every day.  Instead of the children feeling like we are getting through Thanksgiving before doing anything related to Christmas, this week we will joyfully prepare for our family Thanksgiving.

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Thank You Military Families

We live in a transient area near Quantico, VA.  Many military families, especially from the Marine Corps,  are stationed here for a few years.  Part of being a permanent resident of the area is the knowledge that some of your friends will be moving away.  This year it is hitting a little extra hard as at least three friends of mine and my daughters’ are moving this summer and they will be greatly missed.

My father served in the Marines, but it was when he was young and long before I was born.  I grew up in the same small town, in the same house, until I moved out on my own.  My husband served in the Navy, but it was before we met.  My brother joined the Marines when I was about 12 years old.   He deployed many times when he was single; and over the years he took my sister-in-law and my nephews with him until his retirement. Currently,  I miss my nephew as he goes off to Paris Island, Camp Lejeune, Okinawa and now 29 Palms.  I honestly don’t have what it takes to be a military spouse.  I struggle when we rearrange the furniture; I can’t imagine moving every three years or less!

As our homeschool community was ending the school year a few weeks ago I started thinking about this,  but from a very selfish perspective.  I was focused on how we make friends and they move away, almost to the point that I hesitate to make an effort to become friends with military families.

Then yesterday while I was driving my girls to the dentist I was on a road near where a friend had lived who just moved to Jacksonville/Camp Lejeune, NC a month ago.  My mind drifted, as it often does when I am driving.  I thought about the fellowship we shared. We prayed for each other.  We shared good times and bad.  We shared meals and day trips.  Our daughters shared a dear friendship with much in common, yet some differences which enriched each others lives.  I wondered how they are doing and started thinking about how fortunate their new neighbors and friends are to have them.  That’s when I shifted my thought process.  Instead of being negative, I decided to be filled with gratitude.  What a blessing some of the mothers and children have been to my family.  They move in to a community knowing they are not there to stay, yet they make a positive impact for the short time they are here.  They support their husbands and fathers who serve our country bravely.  They endure their spouse’s  deployments or miss their fathers while still giving their time and energy to support others.  They pack up and relocate, as they are commanded, to serve our country.

I have learned to forget my selfish thoughts and count the blessings God has placed in our lives, if only for a short time.  Thank you servicemen for serving our country so bravely.  Thank you military families for coming into our community and lives and making them better before you move on to do the same at the next duty station.  Thank you.

Happiness Does Not Equal Perfection

12/23/2016  I’m reposting this as a reminder to enjoy the peace and love of Christmas with your families as Mary did.  I’m quite certain the stable was not perfect.
I catch myself doing it from time to time;  you know, trying to make a holiday or other special day perfect.  I’m certainly not a perfectionist, but for some reason these ideals creep into my mind around holidays like Christmas or Easter and when I am hosting birthday parties for my children.  I find myself getting so caught up in these ideals that it causes me stress which results in my own unhappiness and grumpiness, and worse yet, it steals the happiness from the people whom I am trying to bring joy.  It’s a vicious cycle.

It was the day before Easter Sunday this year when I started feeling it.  I had not slept well the night before, I had to get the kids to an egg hunt, bake the bunny cake (which was a new thing for us this year, but we were all looking forward to it) and dye the eggs.  Not to mention tidy the house in preparation for my brother and his wife who would be here for dinner on Sunday.   Oh, and finish the routine laundry and prepare a regular Saturday dinner.   My daughter entered the kitchen with anticipation inquiring, “Are we dying eggs or baking the bunny cake first?”  I must have worn the stress on my face and probably didn’t realize I let out a frustrated sigh.  That’s when sadness appeared on her face and she said to me, “Why aren’t you happy?”  Whoa!  What?  Yikes, what am I doing?  OK, I know what I need…a power nap, but there is really not time and I just had a cup of coffee so sleep won’t happen.  I really just need to relax and maybe prioritize.  What is the priority?  Eggs or bunny cake?  Neither.  The priority is to build happy memories with my girls.  It is for them to see the love of Jesus as we celebrate Easter, not the grumpiness of Mommy.  We colored the eggs together and then prepared the cake batter.  Things worked out.  Instead of having a homemade dinner that night, we ended up having Chipotle for dinner on our way back from the grocery store, and that’s okay.  I got some other things done while, get this, they decorated the bunny cake all by themselves.  It looked great and tasted delicious!

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The very next week as I was getting my daughter’s 6th Birthday Tea Party ready and I started to feel it again….the desire for it to be perfect.  The day before the party my oldest, confident after the success of the Bunny Cake, made and decorated the birthday cupcakes all by herself.  My birthday girl and I set out the activities and filled the favor bags together.  I had put off buying the flowers and balloons until the day of the party so they would be fresh.  The morning of the tea party, I started feeling the frantic feeling again of having things tidy, prepared and perfect.  My birthday girl was cleaning off the coffee table and brought me a bookmark which she thought was mine so I could put it away. “Keep Calm and Pray”  were the words on the bookmark.  That was all I needed for a reality check.  I said a quick little prayer and remembered that ten years from now, or even tomorrow, it won’t matter if I had the fruit cut in cute little shapes to match the sandwiches. The party doesn’t have to be perfect to bring my sweet little six year old and her friends happiness.

Am I cured?  Will I never again stress about an event or occasion?  Probably not.  I do think I will catch myself early enough to keep calm and pray, and remember that happiness does not equal perfection.

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Praying Dance Mom

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I pray with and for my kids as I’m sure many of you do.  One night as a feis (Irish Dance Competition) was approaching, I was saying bedtime prayers with my daughter.  She just had one more dance to get a 1st so she could move up a level and begin wearing the poofy, blingy skirt and big wig.  She prayed that God would help her with her dance and reluctantly, we prayed for the win.  First we hesitated.  When there is war and cancer and homelessness, is it really okay to pray for a 1st place in a dance competition?  We discussed this, and considered that God wants us to take all things to Him in prayer and petition and that we are ALL important to Him, so we started praying for the win.

A couple of days later she was at the feis and as usual after she checked in and got in the line, I watched and prayed silently over and over again.  I was 0kay with praying for the win.  As the girls stepped out to dance one girl came out and then stopped….she forgot her dance…..she fumbled a bit and then just went back to the line in tears before the dance was over.  I stopped praying for my daughter and even prayed to God saying “We will be ok, don’t worry about us.  Please just take care of that little girl and guide her mom to handle this with care and build her back up.”   A few minutes later it was my daughter’s turn to dance.  She was on fire!  Well, for most of the dance she was on fire.  Near the end I could tell her feet fumbled just a little, but she got right back into it.  Maybe the judge didn’t see her error.  As she came to me after getting off the stage she expressed disappointment.  She could tell the judge was watching her and was impressed until she forgot her step, and yes the judge was still watching her.  She seemed to be handling it well.  I prayed in my head as we walked through the crowd thanking God that my daughter was handling things well and continued to pray for the other little girl who had been crying on stage.

Later when we went to look at results we saw that my daughter placed 3rd in the dance she so desperately needed to place 1st.  She was not surprised, but she was definitely disappointed.  On the drive home that day, as she was eating her traditional after feis M&M Blizzard, I reminded her that God is answering our prayers, but he is saying to her “not yet”.   I noticed for the next week or so that she was somewhat quiet and routine with our bedtime prayers.  She stopped praying about dancing altogether.  Oh no…we should not have prayed for the win.  I set her up to be angry with God.  I also realized that I was underestimating God when I thought he had to forget about her to take care of another girl.  Don’t I know he can do ALL  things and care for ALL of us at the same time?!?!   Oh no.  What have I done?

Two weeks later, early on a sunny August morning, we were on our way into another  feis.  She didn’t want to pray about it in the hotel room.  As she was pulling her Zuca up the sidewalk ahead of me I prayed silently,  “God, whatever happens today, may it bring her closer to You.”  That was all.  That was my simple prayer.  Of course, as she was in line waiting her turn to step out to dance I  continued with my usual prayers for her to have confidence and to do her best, but I didn’t pray for the win.  And my daughter?  She did eventually earn her poofy, blingy skirt and big wig.  In fact,  she is now in her solo dress and wears a tiara in her big wig.  More importantly, she is close to Him.  She prays daily, sometimes with me and sometimes on her own.  The night before every feis she prays aloud for God to be with her as she dances and she prays for all of the other dancers.  My dance mom prayer every feis morning continues to be, “God, whatever happens here today, may it bring her closer to You.”