Monday, September 28, 2015


I'm fairly certain that we've all lost count of the amount of times in our upbringing that we heard our parents demand or request or advise us to respect them. Or our elders. Or our neighbors. Or our peers. It becomes clear to us early on that respect is an integral part of our relationships with others, but navigating what that looks like is a much more complex thing than one might think.

Interestingly enough - parenting is also a much more complex thing than one might think. 

I can't remember whether I heard it at my moms' group or if I read it in a book or a blog or - more than likely - all of the above, but I once heard and have kept with me that if you want your children to respect you or to learn how to respect others, that you first need to respect them. 

The first time that I heard this - and I have heard it several times - it was the cliche lightbulb moment. Respect your kids and they will learn respect. Why? Because kids learn by example; they watch us, they watch how we interact with our spouses and other adults and they model what we do.

For example, there was one day that I was just crying. I don't remember why - the stress of the day had probably gotten to me and I just needed that physical stress release so I fell to the floor crying. My son - who I come to his and his sister's side when they cry - came running in from another room and just hugged me and told me that it would be OK. He did this until I stopped crying - and his sister, two years his junior, followed suit by touching my forehead with hers and say "Otay Mommy! Otay Mommy!". Now those who know my son will comment on his naturally-inclined empathy, but it is up to us as his parents to teach him how to take that God-given-gift and channel it into a way that shows people he cares. When my kids cry, we are there and so he knows that when people that he loves cry - he can be there for them.

And so - if we first respect our children, they will in turn learn how to respect others very likely starting first with their parents. \
But what in the world does it look like to respect a tiny person? has many definitions for the word respect, but in this instance I think that the one that is applicable is "to show regard or consideration for" and to complete that thought we add "our children.

"To show regard or consideration for our children" - this is what it means to respect our kids. The way that we do this is to first remember that our children are not just these little mini-me-clones walking around: they are indeed uniquely designed people with their own thoughts, their own feelings, their own ideas, their own personalities, and their own needs and desires. Who are our kids? What kinds of things make them tick? How do they react?

So what do we do?

To teach our kids respect, we need to show regard for their feelings when they're having those "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad" days and when they're having their "bright, bright, bright sunshiney" days. Then they will learn to regard the feelings of other people too.

To teach our kids respect, we need to take their opinions or interests into consideration when we're planning our days and weeks or signing them up for activities or even something so simple as picking out their clothes. Then they will learn to take the opinions of others into consideration too.

To teach our kids respect, we need to let them take ownership of their bodies and let them know it's OK to not hug someone or high five someone if they don't want to. It's OK to ask someone safe to hold your hand or rub your back and it's OK to tell people who might want to do those things that you don't want them to do that. Then they will learn to protect their bodies and let or help other people protect theirs too.

To teach our kids respect, we need to listen to them actively. Pay attention to the words they're saying, make sure that you understand and ask for clarification when needed, and don't insert ourselves. Give advice when appropriate and just be a sound board when needed. Then they will learn to be a good listener and be able to be a good friend to others too.

There are so many things that we do every day that are opportunities to respect our kids and in turn teach them to respect others.

So what does this look like practically? 

My kids could not be any more different from each other; we often joke that when blessing us with children, God had a checklist and whatever Will didn't get He gave to Evie when she was conceived. My son is our little pensive introvert and my daughter (when she's not completely mimicking her brother) is an extrovert on the rise. When we made the decision this year to enroll our son in a 1-day-per-week preschool environment to ease him into the next couple of years of preschool and kindergarten, we knew that it had potential to be a difficult transition for him. He thrives in one-on-one or two-on-one situations and the more and more people that get added to that equation, the harder time he has. 

This last week was his second week in the class, and you could see that he was continuing to see how he fit into the social structure of a classroom. He sat through the opening song and story, but observed during the dancing. He participated in craft time and played during playtime. He seemed to be doing OK... and then snack time came. And the teacher had brought string cheese.

Apparently - and unbeknownst to me - Will does. Not. Like. String cheese.


Fifteen minutes later, we moved past the string cheese incident (yes, I realize that is also a band) and were back to attempting to participate in the class. I watched as Will stayed with smaller groups or played by himself, and appreciated how his teacher checked in with him but also recognized that he needed some space. Preschool wrapped up, we packed our little sunflower crafts in the car (the teacher invites Evie to participate where she might be interested), and went to a nearby park to enjoy the sandwiches and apples I had packed for lunch. We sat down, I opened their lunch containers, and let them settle down in our grassy spot however they were comfortable eating their lunch.

Evie sat close to me, ate her lunch, then bounced up and down on my lap, ran in circles, rolled in the grass, laughed, talked... it was clear that the morning at preschool had energized her and she was glad I had brought her someplace that gave her an immediate outlet for that.

Will took his lunch, said "Thank you, Mommy", and quietly moved about a foot away from where he started and turned his back to me and his sister. He watched as cars and trucks and buses drove by and he gazed at the nearby group of teenagers playing soccer. He would occasionally ask a question or make a verbal observation, but by and large he just sat there quietly while he ate his lunch. 

I sat back and thought about that morning and pondered the differences between my two kids as my daughter ran at me and tackled me as best as her little 17-month-old body could. I watched as my son's eyes followed a soccer ball fly through the air and land at the feet of a long-haired girl who kicked it to the next person.

I resisted the urge to pick my son up in my arms and cradle him and talk him through his morning. I held back the words that wanted to ask him if he was okay.

Will needed his space to recuperate from the activities of the day so far. He needed to just have a quiet time to recenter and sitting there watching cars and soccer balls and dump trucks and school buses and his energetic sister occasionally running in front of him as she circled us was exactly what he wanted in that moment.

And I respected that. Just as I know sometimes I need space and as I've given his dad the same space dozens of times over the years. I respected that need for space, I let him have it.

By the time we left, he was ready to explore a nearby monument and run around again with his sister. He even asked me to climb up and play with them. There were even smiles... and boy, the smiles and laughs of my kiddos fill my heart with joy.

How do we respect our kids?

By treating them the same way that we would want to be treated. Lead by example in performing the Golden Rule. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Leave My Dreams, It's Not Your Heart

"Why are you here? Why won't you leave me alone?"

"I just want to make things better between us. Can't we be friends..."

He leaned in closer to my face and I could feel every hair on my body stand on end with fear. The last thing I wanted in that moment was for him to kiss me. Why can't he ever just disappear forever? Why does he keep coming back? I took several steps backwards and could feel my stomach wretch with anxiety...


"I am married. Why can't you understand that? Just leave me alone. Please!!!"

"I just..."

I reached out and shoved him away, feeling the anger and fear and anxiety dripping along with the tears that ran down my face.

"We can be friends... it's OK..."

He walked closer to me again... Why won't he get the danged picture??? "JUST GO AWAY AND LEAVE ME AL..."

My eyes jerked themselves open as I heard a sweet voice say "Hi, Mommy!" through an inserted pacifier. I was back in my bedroom, my bubbly daughter awake next to me. I looked at the clock - 6:18 AM. Steve must have already gone to... wait. Steve wasn't there, he was away at his annual conference.

Me and my mini-me, having some morning snuggles...
The dream. That's why. I rubbed my eyes and breathed slowly to reset my quickly beating heart, snuggling my giggling daughter and remembering all that God has surrounded me with. I reminded myself with each inhale that it was just a dream and with each exhale that it wasn't real. The recurring dream that I have each time that Steve is away on business - the one where my ex-boyfriend from 20 years ago shows up and tries to be a part of my life again. Sometimes he's trying to woo me, sometimes he's trying to just be friend, but always the sentiment is the same.

That he loved me. Never meant to hurt me. That he wants to reconcile. That he wants that part of my heart back. That I was his only love.

In every dream he is the 19-year-old that cheated on me not once, but twice. In every dream he is every bit the sweet-talker that my 14-year-old self couldn't resist and that my 17-year-old self took back and that my 19-year-old self believed his words that he would leave his then wife for me.

In every dream I want nothing more than for him to disappear. In every dream I want to know where my Steve is, because he is never there in these dreams but always missing. In every dream I can feel walls closing in around us, in every dream I am desperately fighting to get back to my present-day reality and begging through tears for my past to go as far away as possible.

After every dream I wake up uneasy. I wake up questioning things I never should be questioning. I wake up with faster heartbeats and quicker breaths, wanting to run back to where I wake up. The place that God has surrounded me with love and reassurance and His grace.

But I can rarely shake that feeling. That feeling that no one can be trusted. It takes days, sometimes weeks. Always Steve is reassuring, because he knows that this part of me causes deep insecurities and he wants me to be whole, to let this part of me die, to be released from it.

Last year after having this dream, I woke up and turned on Steve's iPad to watch some Netflix and try to get back to sleep. It was only 10:00 PM where Steve was, and iMessage sent across a text from a colleague that they should meet up for fries.

The bells went off. Who meets for fries at 10:00 PM? What the heck?

I called Steve and through tears told him about my dream, that I saw the text, and I just needed to hear his voice and know we were OK. Know that my fears were unfounded. Because God has blessed me with a husband who is willing to understand this part of me and help me through it - he stayed on the phone with me until I calmed down.

Then - and those who know my husband's love of condiments will understand this - he went and met some colleagues for fries with blueberry ketchup. Because that's what a condiment lover does when he and his colleagues don't want to get drunk at the after party during a conference.

My awesome, caring husband at his annual nerd conference.

So I lay there with my daughter listening to the hum of the fan and her adorable sweet voice through her pacifier and reminded myself that my husband is faithful. That he promised he would always be faithful from the first time I confessed this part of my soul to him and he has never done anything to demonstrate anything other than fulfilling this promise.

I said a prayer, asking God to help release me from these dreams. To help me finally remove 20 years of scarring and tell that 16-year-old in a heap on the floor of her kitchen, holding a phone in her hand and pouring tears out that it all turns out okay - better than okay, actually.

God, I begged, please... please... please kill this.

A couple of hours later I pulled out my phone and opened my devotional app while the kids finished up their breakfast on the porch. The topic of the day? "The Enemy's Tactic Against You." As I read through the devotional that focused on Genesis 3:1: "Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, 'Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden''?"

I read on and could feel my pulse quickening as the images from the previous night's dream flittered across my memory. I devoured every word of the devotional, and inhaled through my teeth as I read these: "He uses four words: 'Did God really say...?' Maybe you haven't had the enemy slither up next to you in the form of a serpent and speak these words out loud. But I bet he's whispered them into your ear. After all, the enemy's greatest desire is to separate you from God."

I looked out across my yard to the breeze flitting through the trees and up at the outline of morning moon my son was excitedly pointing out. I could feel God's sentiment on my heart: "Danielle... I delivered you through that old life and gave you this life, these kids, your husband. The enemy has taken over this part of your heart - take it back. Do not listen to the whisper of the enemy anymore."

I closed my eyes... "In the name of Jesus... give me my danged heart back. In the name of Jesus, that belongs to my husband, that belongs to my family, that belongs to me, and most importantly that belongs to God. Give it back."

I opened my eyes and my daughter said "Pee-it-boo!" through her wide mouthed grin, and my son laughed.

I felt... relieved. I felt... at home again. I felt... empowered. I felt... full.

That morning when my husband had his video chat good morning with us, it was like fresh air filled my lungs. When he returned home that Friday, it was the first time I didn't feel relieved that he was home but rather felt fully and richly blessed that he had the opportunity to take advantage of this part of his career. I didn't feel on edge and looking for reasons to suspect, and instead have felt nothing but love and happiness and grace and the fullness of God's blessing on my marriage.

Watching for Daddy's car to come up the hill when he got home from the trip.

A few days after Steve got home, this was the key verse in my morning devotional: "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you." (James 4:7)

For at least the time being - and for the first time in a very long time - I have felt the Enemy release his grip from the part of my heart that was still crying on the kitchen floor of my parents' house hoping her sobs wouldn't wake up her sisters. I have been able to breathe easier for the first time in almost 20 years, having resisted the Devil and watching him flee.

"Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." (Ephesians 6:13)

There will come a time when the Enemy will come back, when he will try to take that part of my heart back again, when he will push down that insecure teenager to the floor and laugh as her tears flow. When he will remind her that she's not good enough for a guy to stick around, and that will always be the case.

It will be when that time comes that it will be up to me to put on the armor that God has given to me. It will be up to me to call to Him, to reach up in prayer and use the power that I have been given in the name of Jesus to resist those whispers.

Because the self-destruction of doing anything else just isn't worth it when compared to the beauty that lies in the life that God has gifted to me.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Evolution of Summer

Sometimes time just gets away from you.

That's what happened to me in the month of August.

There were visits to parks, the lake, the local farm, family visits, and lots of playtime outside. Lots and lots and lots of playtime outside.

Then one day last week I looked up and realized that the month of August had slipped through our fingers. This reality occurred to me when I was outside playing with my kids one evening and the sun that just a few short weeks ago that had been still high above the houses was slipping behind the treeline as the night drew near. A cooler breeze took over the warmth of day, and my 3-year-old made the observation that it was getting dark outside.

I watched that evening as the kids dug in the dirt in our yard and thought back to my summers as a kid. Summers outside making "forts" between the few trees in our backyard and neighborhood kickball leagues and going to the town lake or riding bikes down hills after a rainstorm hoping for a puddle. Summers with family vacations to the beach and summers with evening board games on the porch with neighborhood friends. Sprinklers and friends' pools and lightning bugs. Sliding down too-hot slides or sitting on swings whose black color had absorbed the heat from the sun.

Then I became a teenager and summer became a time to work extra hours to gain some extra pocket money. To go to the beach with friends at night and lay on the beach listening to the waves. To get out of work and not have to go right not to finish homework, but instead get an iced coffee and stay outside at a park or at a friend's house or drive around with the windows down singing at the top of our lungs until it was time to be home for curfew. Sleepovers and camping and card games. Drum corps practices and band camp in the hot summer sun, drinking loads of water and lathering on more sunscreen than I knew existed (yet still getting a killer tan).

Of course there were always constants. The smell of a light summer rain on the pavement. The feel of the fan in the humid summer nights as I lay there sleeping between sheets with no blankets. Memories of my Mom's perfectly medium steaks and corn and potatoes on the grill, the juicy burgers that dripped when you bit into them, the feel of BBQ sauce on my fingers from the BBQ chicken legs. Reading book after book in front of a fan or in the shade of a tree because we didn't have air conditioning. Iced tea, lemonade, ice cream trucks, ice cream stands.

Summer always seemed like this magical time of year where there was nothing to be had but enjoyment. Even if you had to work - either babysitting or a part-time job - it felt like responsibility could take a backseat to a 2-month long sabbath.

Then I grew up and summertime changed.

Summertime became a big tease. Working full-time with a limited amount of vacation days doesn't allow for an extended hiatus. 30-minute lunch breaks became my taste of the beauty of summer - 50 yards away from the smoking hut in an industrial park. Drives with the windows down to the beach blaring music turned to drives on back roads home from a 9-hour work day blaring music, the smell of salty air replaced with the smell of exhaust from the car in front of you. There was still the feeling of freedom from the indoors, but instead of the carefree feeling that came along with not having anywhere to be there was always the tugging feeling that something else just had to be done.

Summertime changed for me for a while once adulthood set in. But then... then we had the kids.

So there I sat at the bottom of our front walkway steps, watching as my two little toddlers dug around in the dirt in search for worms, ants, beetles, or any other bug that might crawl up from the filth. I watched as they picked up shovelfuls of the earth, filled miniature dump trucks and moved them to "the dumping place" to empty them out and then start the cycle again. I smiled as my 16-month-old daughter stood up and decided it was time to stamp on the ants, walking normally with her right foot as she lifted her left foot up a-la John Cleese in Monty Python's "Ministry of Silly Walks" skit and stomping it back down. I heard my son declare it was time to play soccer, toss down his shovel and run in the direction of the box of balls to get his soccer ball.

In those moments after realizing that August had slipped through the same cracks that allowed the sunlight to slip through the trees during that evening's slow sunset, I also realized that summer had managed to become magical again.

In preparing to write this post, I asked a handful of moms whose kids have grown what they cherished about their summers with their kids. The common thread was the allowance for memories to be made once the weather warmed, and school was out for the summer. The moms that answered recounted trips to farms, trips to the beach, seemingly aimless drives to a surprise destination, the sounds of carefree and happy children and their friends coming to and from. The relaxing of schedules made way for families to be able to do more, be more, play more, and enjoy more. Wading pools and homemade popsicles and old movies and day camps or VBS and many, many more nostalgic moments that moms have with their kids.

My mom was one of those who responded, and her favorite memory was when we would stay at the beach for a week each summer. We would pack up blankets, lunches, sand toys and head down to the sand, finding the perfect spot. Once the blankets were spread, we would endeavor to build what usually became a rather large sand castle, usually with a rather large "moat" in the middle. I remember we would try to dig a trench to the ocean so that when the tide came in the moat would fill. Then the next day, we'd do the same thing all over again with different sandwiches in the cooler at lunchtime.

So I watched my kids this summer. I watched them play in the dirt and run through bubbles and recoil at sprinklers and splash in a pool and throw rocks in the town lake while wading ankle deep in the water. I watched them kick soccer balls and let sand run through their fingers and slide down slides. I watched them lick ice cream off of their spoons and gnaw on corn cobs and watermelon rinds. I watched them find the joy of the burst of taste that a fresh blueberry allows when it has come straight from the bush. I watched them get inches away from a dragonfly perched atop a branch of a rosebush. I watched as they felt the joy of grass between their toes and flowers picked between their fingers. I watched as they changed from being afraid of thunderstorms to being in awe of them as we explained thunder, lightning, and observed the pouring rain. I watched them dip their fingers in puddles and reach out from the safety of the porch to get their fingers wet.

I watched them play. I watched them run. I watched them wonder.

I watched as through them my summers became magical again.

Maybe... maybe through them, they've become even more magical.