An Unexpected Classroom Intervention

With only five minutes left until the end of class, I ask a student to go to the front of the classroom for a quick "stand and deliver" exercise.  He's asked to speak about a topic of interest for one minute, devoid of any verbal fillers, like uh or um, that might distract the audience from his message.

He chooses to talk about how he settled on his major.  He begins, "I've always looked up to my father, so when I thought about what to study, I looked to his career as a model.  He's a chemical engineer.  He has a PhD in it, actually.  When I enrolled here, it seemed natural to follow in his footsteps and major in chemical engineering, so I did.  Except now I'm two years into the program, and I realize that I don't love it.  I'm much more interested in computer engineering, but I worry that I'm too far into my courses to change."

I glance at my watch and I realize that he's already reached his time limit, but nobody in the audience is antsy.  They're rapt with attention.  One student ahead of me nods her head in understanding, then kindly interjects, "You're not too far."

Other students immediately echo the same sentiment:

"No, you still have time to make a change."

"You're preparing for the rest of your life.  Don't settle -- do what you're passionate about. "

"Don't keep going down a road that you know is wrong.  Changing your major might seem drastic to you now, but it makes sense to correct your course.

The whole class rallies behind him.  I sit quietly, filled to the brim at this outpouring.  He listens, nodding intently, as classmate after classmate echos that he's not as trapped as he thinks he is.

We all thought that he was going to the front of the classroom for a brief speaking exercise.  Instead, it turned out to be the most unexpected intervention from 26 of his classmates, who at that moment, were the best audience I've ever seen.

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We Shouldn't Wait Until They're Leaving

A woman who works in my department is leaving her position and starting a new job next week.  This woman is stellar.  With work, she's helpful and competent.  Socially, she's kind and gracious.  Personally, she's remarkably classy, from how she dresses (always stylish) to how she speaks (her voice is like velvet.)

I've always thought these things about her, and now that she's leaving, I made a point to tell her.  Which is good, but only kind of good.

Wouldn't it be better if we offered our compliments to others right as we think them, rather than holding onto those compliments until the perfect time?  It's like winking at someone in the dark: you know how you feel about them, but they don't.

I'd rather let them know up front -- before they're leaving.

So that's why I paused while writing this post to walk down the hallway and tell a colleague that the presentation he gave yesterday was excellent.  Why wait?  Why hold out doing and saying good when it can be done now?

Now is better.  Don't wait until they're leaving.

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How My Kids Became the Most Annoying Customers in Walmart

Title: How My Kids Became the Most Annoying Customers in Walmart

Subtitle: I offer this as a warning.  At all costs, avoid the aisle where cow bells are sold.

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Question: How Do You Do It All Well? Answer: I Don't.

Last week I received a message from a friend.  She and I both work full time.  We're both raising three daughters.  We're both married to men whose jobs require late or nontraditional hours, so we navigate many dinners, evenings, and bedtimes with our kids alone.

She's several years younger than me, though, and her children are several years younger than mine.

On that premise, she asked: "How do you do it all well?  I know I'm where I'm supposed to be, but I'm in the thick of it.  I need to look to women a bit ahead of me who haven't shrunk back in spite of motherhood, but have stepped up, so to speak."

I wish that a picture could have been taken of me the exact moment I read her message.  I was standing in my kitchen, stress-eating a handful of crackers because I couldn't find any chocolate to stress-eat.  I was nowhere near finished with my work for the day.  Dinnertime was near, yet I had no meal planned and limited groceries.  One daughter needed to be picked up from swimming intramurals.  Another daughter needed help with math homework.  We had an event at church that evening, plus I had entirely forgotten about a Girl Scout ceremony (conveniently scheduled at the exact same time as church) even though I had received multiple reminders about the ceremony, all of which I had forgotten to RSVP.

How do you do it all well?

The answer to that question was straightforward: You don't.  You just don't.  You learn to do most of it well enough, but you never quite do all of it to your high expectations.

Because "it" is huge.  The "it" in "how do you do it all well?" is mammoth.  It's comprised of unwieldy to-do lists for work, home, and, if you have kids, each individual child.  The "it" represents hundreds of daily decisions, both small and large, from what to serve for dinner, to how to proceed with a conflict at work, to how to discipline a difficult child's behavior while still showing love.  "It" stands for the dishwasher that needs to be emptied, the school picture order form that needs to be returned, and the class that needs to be taught the next morning.  "It" means that you have answers to all possible questions, like you're a human Google who can provide detailed weather reports so your kids know exactly how to dress each morning, or identify the species of a native deciduous tree by its leaves so you're poised to assist your middle schooler who's completing a science project.

Inherent in the "it" is that you take care of yourself (obviously!) and prioritize your marriage (so important!), while also spending quality time with each child to invest in their academic, social, spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being.  And, in those cozy spare moments as you ease into bath time and approach the sweet bedtime hours, "it" nudges that, while you're at it, you ought to read with your children for 20 minutes (keeping a log of book titles, of course) because, friends, reading is good and educational and fun!

So, as I paused at my kitchen counter reading her message and processing how I do it all, I laughed aloud -- one of those slightly manic laughs that, if witnessed by an outside observer, would make them question whether I was entirely balanced.

But clearly I was not balanced, because if I had been, I would have remembered the hidden stash of chocolate chips in the freezer, and I would have been stress-eating those instead of crackers.  Regardless, I formulated a response:

Dear friend, you don't do it all.  Somehow, you learn to live comfortably in that realization. Not throwing in the towel, not giving up, but also not holding yourself to impossible standards.

I poured out words that I wanted her to hear, not just in her head, but also in her heart:

You have amazing capacity. You've established a diligent work ethic that sets you apart, and your high level of competence has been rewarded by getting entrusted with more work. On top of that, God's blessed you with three spirited children who bring such joy, yet require such time, energy, and effort. And you have a husband and a marriage to cultivate! And there's church and ministry! And there is laundry -- so much laundry! -- and dishes and meal prep. And you still need to shower and groom!  There's no wonder why you feel as if you can't do it all -- there is only one of you.  And even in your amazingness, it's not feasible to always have all of these plates spinning well. There's going to be some wobble.

When we're feeling especially overwhelmed, don't we all need someone to tell us that the wobble is normal and inevitable?  That wobbling is not an indicator that we're failing, but rather, that we're somehow keeping worlds in motion?

I was reminded of a scene a few semesters ago when I had an undergraduate teaching assistant who handled some instructional and clerical tasks for a course I was teaching.  After our students had taken an exam, he emailed to ask if he could grade the exams by the end of the week, not the very next class session.  He was a terrific student and TA -- always diligent, always helpful, always on top of things.  He simply needed more time.  I immediately accepted his request: Of course you can have an extra few days to grade the exams.  It won't hurt anyone.  Your week is hectic; I know you'll get it done as soon as you're able.

Even as I responded, I realized that I was being more gracious with him than I would have been with myself.  I would have expected myself to grade the exams that night, regardless of my schedule.

In both of these situations -- my friend's challenge to balance work and motherhood, and my TA's challenge to meet a deadline -- I could easily understand their struggles.  They're remarkably competent people, both of whom have a lot on their plates.  It's natural for me to offer them encouragement and leeway.  How could I not empathize?

My responses made me wonder: If I can do this so readily for others, why can't I also give myself the benefit of the doubt when I face challenges?  Why can't I easily let go of my self-imposed expectations, especially when those expectations are arbitrary or unreasonable?

I think it's because, deep in my heart, I still want to do it all well.  I want my all plates to spin perpetually, not to wobble.

Sometimes I wish that we had audible cheerleaders who partnered with us, calling our attention to the many things we're doing well:

Remember that time you crawled out of bed at night to change the wet laundry from the washer into the dryer?  Remember that?  That was impressive.  How about the morning when you knew the exact location of your son's missing homework folder?  Not everyone would have remembered it was on the third step, sitting next to the pile of socks that you had gathered from the family room floor.  And what about that evening when you desperately wanted to watch an episode of Worst Cooks in America: Celebrity Edition, but instead you laid in bed beside your children, rubbing their backs and listening to them talk about their days?  You. Are. Amazing.

I don't think we celebrate or notice the many things we're doing well, though, because we're already rattling off the next set of expectations, like how we now ought to fold the clothes we had put the dryer, or wash the dirty socks sitting on the steps, or hold off viewing Worst Cooks in favor of checking email once more.

Let's break that perpetual cycle.  Let's notice the things we're accomplishing, not just what we aren't.

You might not be doing it all well, whatever "it" looks like for you.  Neither am I.  Nobody is.  We all have plates that are wobbling, falling, or shattering at our feet.  We mostly see our own messes up close, not everyone else's, which makes us feel more isolated.  Truth is, we're all in the thick of life.  Mess and struggle is inevitable.

So, let this post be a reminder to you -- just like it's a reminder to me -- that we can be kind to ourselves.  If you can't hear your own voice telling you this, then let mine resonate through the screen today:  Have you noticed how much you're doing?  You're killing it in so many areas.  You're doing it, my friend.

Maybe not all, and maybe not entirely well, but you're doing it.  And today, that's entirely a victory.

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The Sidewalk Not Taken

My weekday life is highly predictable.  I wake early to exercise and shower before getting my daughters on the bus.  I drive to campus, teach my classes, eat lunch at my desk, check email, hold office hours, and then return home where I cycle through the evening routine: homework, dinner, clean-up, activities, baths and bedtime for the girls, and, once the house is still and quiet, I grade and prep my materials for the next day's classes.

Lather, rinse, repeat, day after day.  The routine works, but sometimes routines need to be shaken up.

So that's what I did today.  It's been glorious lately: low humidity, warm temperatures, and blue skies that highlight the emerging golden leaves.  It's like summer in September, and when you're experiencing summer in September, you don't need to eat lunch with a view of your computer.

Instead, you need to find an unoccupied bench, sit down, and eat lunch while enjoying the view of campus.  You might even need to quote some Robert Frost to yourself:
Two sidewalks diverged on a campus and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Take the sidewalk less traveled by.  Such a simple change, yet it does the soul good.

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We've Got a New Look!

My dear readers!  I'm delighted to unveil the new design for my blog!  If you've been reading for a while on either your desktop computer or mobile devices, you'll notice changes immediately: an updated header, streamlined social media buttons, a sleeker layout, and more accessible share buttons.

I hope it makes your interactions on Robin Kramer Writes even better.

Plus, I now can do slick formatting like this:
Look!  These sentences must be important.  We know because they're written in blockquote, and only important ideas go in blockquote.
I won't let the blockquoting power go to my head.  Pinky promise.

I'd like to thank Corinne at The Blog Decorator for her remarkable assistance in this revamped design.  If you write a blog or run a website, I highly recommend her services.  At the risk of using too many superlatives in one sentence, I have been -- and will forever remain -- remarkably pleased with her exceptional professionalism, promptness, thoroughness, and warmth.

As always, thanks for joining me here!  Until next time...

- Robin

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Because a List is the Remedy for Scattered Thoughts

Have you ever held a helium balloon in your hands and lost grip of the string?  You can feel it slipping from your grasp, yet your mind can't convince your hand to clutch quickly enough, so you simply watch the balloon float away.

I experienced this sensation all last week, except that the balloon was my thoughts.  So many thoughts!  Some were mundane: Buy eggs!  Send checks for the kids' school pictures!  Reply to that email!  Call to make that appointment!  Do not forget the eggs!  Or the school pictures!

But I'd forget.  The thoughts would slip through my grasp and float away, never to be seen again, which is further evidence for why I need to write lists to function in daily life.  All week long the same principle applied when I thought about writing here.  An idea would form loosely, but before I could get a good grip, it would be carried away on some invisible breeze.

I said all that to say this: in today's post, please bear with my scattered thoughts.  I'm clutching them as tightly as I can.  (I'm also reverting to a list, because -- see above -- lists work for me.)

Hurricane update.  Last post I told you that my parents had evacuated their Florida home for Hurricane Irma.  They've since returned.  While there's exterior damage to their house, there's no interior damage or flooding.  We're so grateful, yet we know many weren't as fortunate.

Fall is in the air.  We had the most gorgeous weekend -- sunshine, mid 70's in the afternoons, cooler mornings and evenings.  The best part, though, was that when I breathed deeply, I could smell leaves and a type of earthiness that's solely reserved for the fall.  It made me inexplicably happy.

Sort of, but not really, saying RIP to summer projects.  I'm starting the fifth week of the semester, which means one thing: I will perpetually reside in a state of needing to grade something -- speeches, essays, exams, student blogs -- for the next ten weeks.  That being said, this past weekend I looked at my list of the summer DIY projects that I wanted to complete (I told you I thrive on lists!), and thought, "One more.  Do one more.  You've got this."

So today as my kids were playing outside, I pulled out a drop cloth, wood, my palm sander, paint, my trusty one-and-a-half-inch angled paint brush, and a can of spray paint, and then got to work in my garage.  Something inside of me changes when I get to work with my hands, not just within my head.  It's rejuvenating.  It's therapeutic.  Right there, I promised myself that no matter how busy the semester gets, I'd still remember that this "mere play" might be the best way I can spend an hour, especially when I might not feel that I have an hour to spare.

(By the way, I can't wait to show you my day's work when it's done.  My annual DIY week where I showcase favorite summer projects will be coming soon!)

Be prepared for some changes.  Speaking of big reveals, in the near future, Robin Kramer Writes will be getting a new look.  I'm excited to refresh the design so it looks slick on both desktop and mobile versions, so be prepared!  I think you're going to love it.  I already love it, and it isn't even done yet.  I can't wait!

Friends, as always, thanks for reading.  This week, may your thoughts not fly away from you, may your lists be helpful, and may you find happiness in the littlest of things -- even a fresh breath of fall air.

Image compliments of A. Currell.

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Keeping Our Eyes Above the Storm

Millions upon millions of people will have a story of how these recent hurricanes, whether Harvey or Irma, have impacted them or someone they know.  My parents, for example, evacuated their Naples home on Thursday, and they're uncertain when they'll be able to return -- or what, exactly, they'll return to.  Yesterday I spoke with a man who just had sold his home, seemingly a congratulatory event, until I asked him where he was moving.  "Southwest Florida," he replied, offering me a pained smile.

It's a lot to absorb.

I watch news coverage, not sure whether I want to be informed or not.  It seems strange to look out my window and see a perfect September day -- calm blue skies, light breeze, sunshine -- when the view is so contrary elsewhere.

So, like millions, we pray.  We offer tangible assistance, even if it's small, like the lemonade stand my daughter and her friend held this afternoon to raise funds, fifty cents at a time.


I think about the stories that will emerge -- the women in shelters who are nursing infants, or those who are elderly or already hospitalized, or the headstrong residents who refused to evacuate, even though they were advised repeatedly to do so, or the rescue personnel and helpful citizens who will serve and give tirelessly, perhaps even to their own harm.

These people add their collective experiences to the millions upon millions of people throughout history who have suffered their own losses, whether from accident, war, or natural disaster.  We humans are no strangers to suffering and displacement, it seems, even if we never face something as epic as a hurricane.

And it hurts.

I'm thankful for wise words, like these from Max Lucado, that remind us of this important truth, even in the midst of the hurt: "The storm is coming, but God is with us."

We lift up our eyes to the hills, where our help comes from.  He's with as we wait, wrestling with the unknown.  He's with us when the brunt of the storm hits.  And He's with us in the aftermath, day by day, minute my minute, as houses and lives are cobbled back together.

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The Best Type of Problem to Have

The other day I encountered the strangest problem: We had too much chocolate cake in our house.

If you're thinking, "Wait just a minute.  There never can be too much chocolate cake in one's house," I understand.  I really do.  But -- defying all odds -- we legitimately had more chocolate cake than we could reasonably eat.  Unbeknownst to my husband, I had made a decadent chocolate Texas sheet cake for a Labor Day picnic, and unbeknownst to me, my husband had bought a chocolate cake from the grocery store for the same picnic.  On top of that, fewer people attended the picnic than we expected, leaving us with more cake than a family of five should consume.

Of all the problems in the world, this is a terrific one to have.

The next day I texted several neighbors and invited them over.  There is enough cake for everybody!  Come over!  Come hungry!

And that's exactly what happened.  Our neighbors came, and we ate cake together.

It's a good day when a problem can be solved with chocolate and sharing, don't you think?

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Figure Out All the Things!

Last week I learned the names of over 100 new students in the four college classes I'm teaching this semester.  I don't know what I forgot in order to make this mental space available, though.  Something had to go.  I'm sure of it.

Fall is always a season of influx and output.  New students enter, new classrooms are learned, and new routines are established.  My kids experience the same phenomenon, except that they come home with multiple worksheets that need to be signed and requests from teachers to "tell us something about your child."  (As a side note, when I'm asked to say "something" about my children, I immediately look at them as if I've never seen them before and become unable to synthesize any useful biographical or descriptive information.  Perhaps that is what I forget while assimilating 100 new names.)

At the same time, while we establish our work and school routine, I hanker to bring order to our home, too.  This weekend, for example, I noticed that our garden was making one final push, which resulted in giant batches of pesto, fresh capresi salad, several zucchini breads, and a raspberry pie.

Of course, after spending time in the garden, I also noticed that our grass needed to be cut. Two hours later as I walked through the back yard to appreciate the newly-manicured lawn, I had another thought: "Wouldn't it be nice if the inside of my house looked as good as the outside?"  Then I answered my question (because I'm a polite conversationalist, even when talking to myself): "Yes, yes it would."  I moved room to room, dusting and vacuuming, organizing and purging.

I was a woman on a mission.  I cleaned the entire house -- closets! cabinets! crannies!  -- then I looked over the uncluttered spaces and declared, "It is good."

Finally, there was a bit of order to my world.  I've learned names.  I've completed and returned paperwork.  I've cut grass, made pesto, and eaten raspberry pie.  I've cleaned the house, and it's stayed somewhat clean.  (Kids make much less mess at home when they're at school, after all.)

This process of taming and figuring out All The Things -- the garden, the grass, the house, the paperwork -- seems especially fitting during this particular season.  Even more than January, the start of school signals a fresh star.

We're at it again.  Happy New Year.

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Because this Back to School Stuff Isn't Just for Kids

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Deserving of a Chance

This is a picture of me holding our friends' youngest daughter.  It was taken last Wednesday evening, three days before the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.

Many wise columnists have written about Charlottesville this past week, so I won't attempt to frame the broad social, cultural, or political picture in these brief words.  Instead, I simply want to share a small picture -- this literal picture that captures a moment when a child trusted me and nestled into my arms for a few minutes. 

She happens to be black, just like I happen to be white.  Neither of us had any choosing in this matter.

This child deserves to grow up safely and equally.  Fathers and mothers who are raising young black boys and girls deserve to not fear for their children's safety, security, and futures, as I only can imagine that they do every day.

Our country appears to be moving backwards.  It's almost paralyzing.  As I attempted to explain the recent events to my daughters, my youngest asked the question so many of us are thinking, "Why?  Why would they do that?"

Because man's heart is capable of hatred.  Because racism and oppression are trenchant.  Because our world is fallen.  Because evil and sin exist.  Because, somehow, they were taught it.

As I watch my children process, I imagine them thinking of the people we know and love who are black.  Their favorite neighbor, Mr. Joe, who just invited them over for peach cobbler and always buys a treat from them when they set up their lemonade stand.  Their friends in school and church.  The college students who come to our house each week to share a meal.

They can't fathom how others could hate simply based on skin color.  And I think it's because they've been exposed, all of their young lives, to some degree of diversity, and that they've seen respect and friendship and love modeled.

My heart has been heavy.  Last Saturday's events in Charlottesville aren't new, sadly.  They reveal what's under the surface.  And it reminds me that in my home, in my neighborhood, in my community, in my classrooms, and in my church, now more than ever, we need to demonstrate a firm commitment to loving our neighbors as ourselves, whether they be black, or white, or any range in between.

That young girl in the picture?  She deserves a chance at the best possible life. 

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Repeat As Needed: "It's Going to be OK"

Off and on for the past week, I've felt vaguely anxious.  I haven't been able to pinpoint why, or particularly about what, but I've been the slightest bit off.  I mentioned it to my husband, who said that he felt the same way.  Then he added, "The semester is starting soon.  We're in that holding pattern again."

Light bulb moment.  My anxiety was merely a byproduct of looming unknowns.  I'm waiting on updates from colleagues; I'm creating four different syllabi; I'll meet new students and experience new classrooms in less than two weeks.  All the while, I'm immersed in the daily summer (non)routine with my kids, so my preparatory work for the semester is done only when I can steal small segments of time.

I don't know how I didn't identify this pattern more clearly.  I always feel this way before a new academic year starts.  More importantly, given that I've started over a dozen academic years before, I also know that the details always work out.  The new courses get planned, the new students become familiar, the new schedule is learned, and good things come from it all.

It all works out.

So, when the anxious feelings return, I tell myself, "It's going to be okay.  This is normal.  Keep working, trust God, and forge ahead."

It makes a difference.

At the same time, off and on for the past week, my middle daughter has acted out.  She snaps at people for no reason, storming our house in a volatile huff.  We talk one night as I'm tucking her into bed.  She's feeling vaguely anxious, too, and she hasn't been able to pinpoint why, or particularly about what, either.

She and I work through the same process.  School is starting soon.  You're waiting to learn your teacher, and you want to know if your friends will be in your class.  It's normal to feel a bit nervous.  But remember how you felt this same way last year?  And the year before?  And remember how it worked out?  You're going to be okay, kiddo.  

And then we pray.  I thank God that she'll be assigned the right teacher, even if it's not the preferred teacher.  I thank God that she'll have the right friends with her, and if it doesn't seem that way, that she'll remember that she's never alone, that God goes with her.

Together, we'll repeat this as often as needed, until it rings true:  It's going to be okay.

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The Perks of Owning an Old Car

We own an old car.  I won't bore you with details about make and model and year, but I will say that while there certainly are older cars on the road, ours is getting up there.  I'll call it a seasoned vehicle.

This past weekend I took a road trip to visit a dear friend.  For three hours, it just was me, my thoughts, and the open road.  And -- because of the age of my vehicle -- there also was a small trove of ancient cassette tapes that I've held onto for rare moments like this, moments when a little reminder of life at age 18, like one mixed tape aptly titled Traveling Music (circa 1996), hits the spot.

Yes, there are still some perks of owning an old car.

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Making a Mess of This Parenting Thing

It all started with the slime.  For reasons I don't fully understand, my oldest daughter is obsessed with slime, which is why we now own a gallon jug of Elmer's glue, a box of Borax, and an infuriating Styrofoam-bead-like substance called floam.  Despite receiving ample instruction about how and where slime should be made or played with -- hard surfaces only! not on the couch! not on the carpet! -- each of our three kids have gotten slime on various soft surfaces like the couch, the carpet, the new ottoman, and creatively, bedroom curtains.

With each incident, I grew increasingly angry.  I repeated phrases like, "You know better."  I banned it for extended periods.  Then, being more proactive and calmer, I coached them to use a plastic tablecloth.  It's mostly worked.  The girls are now mostly responsible with slime.  

Except for once last week when, belying all prior instruction and correction, one child got slime on the couch.  In an effort to clean it up, she conspired with her sisters, squirted a generous dob of hair conditioner onto the sticky mess, and then scrubbed it with toilet paper which deteriorated and clumped into hundreds of gloppy bits.  (Because that's how a child cleans slime.)  Then she spoke of it to no one.

But, as we all know, messes tend to get found out.  I spied the still-damp aftermath later that day and raised the red flag, "Alright, WHO did it?"  Even my normally calm and unflappably patient husband had enough.  I stood beside him as he railed at the girls, all of whom sat silently on the now-slimed, stained, and conditioned couch.  I was angry, playing chords of "Do you have to ruin every single object in this house?"   He seemed even angrier, with refrains of "Why didn't you tell us instead of making it worse?"

It wasn't pretty.  It wasn't the type of atmosphere I want to characterize our household.

As the evening wore on, with everyone either bristled or sullen, I thought more about the incident.  Yes, our daughter had disobeyed.  Yes, she knew it was wrong.  And yes, that disobedience made a mess -- a mess that she tried to cover up, nonetheless.

But that's where I got stuck.  My daughter had known that she'd get in trouble for getting the slime on the couch.  So she tried to hide it -- or, more aptly, she tried to fix it.  It just so happened that her fix hadn't worked, so she got in trouble for that, too.

Darned if you do.  Darned if you don't.  The Catch-22 made me pause.

I thought of some messes I've made in my life.  Big messes.  Messes with family, or messes with relationships, or messes from poor choices.  I know what it's like to want to hide those messes, to cover them up, to speak of them to no one, to hope they'll just go away on their own, and then to languish under their weight because they never really go away on their own.  They fester until they're dealt with.

Mostly, I thought about how gentle God is when I come to Him with my mess.  When I point to the proverbial slime on my couch and admit to God, "I did that.  I knew better, but for whatever reason, I still went ahead and did it.  Now it's a mess.  I'm stuck, and I'm so sorry."

When I confess, He forgives me fully.  He doesn't make me wallow.  When I confess, He frees me.  I no longer waste away under the heavy weight of my guilt.

During this particular slime incident, though, I had wanted my kids to wallow.  I had been ticked off, and rightfully so.  They did know better, after all.  But it struck me hard -- my reaction and correction had been fueled with anger and passive-aggressive complaints.  Contrast that with God, who certainly corrects, but does so with grace.

And that's how slime brought it to my knees.  That's how slime found me apologizing to my kids for my bad behavior, for my mismanagement of anger, for my mess.  Joel and I both approached the girls.  We messed up.  Your action was wrong, but so was our response.  We're sorry.  You can come to us with your messes.  We're not perfect and we might get upset, but we love you.  You're always more important than things.  Always.  You don't have to hide your messes from us.

Even more importantly: You never have to hide your messes from God.  He loves you.  Unlike us, He is entirely perfect.  His response will reflect that perfection.  There's freedom when you confess.

After all, throughout my walk with Jesus, I've learned that freedom isn't reached by letting enough time pass until I no longer feel the sting of my wrongdoing.  It's not achieved by convincing myself that I meant well.  It's not accomplished by overcoming with better deeds in the future.  It's found by taking ownership and admitting -- to myself, to others, to God -- that I missed the mark and asking for forgiveness, rather than hiding my mess.

I go to God regularly with my shortcomings as a parent.  On any given day, I feel as if there are endless permutations of ways I'm messing up my children, each time just a bit differently, like a combination lock of dysfunction.  I sometimes swing like a pendulum, wondering whether I'm too permissive or too strict, too hand-off or too overbearing, all in the same afternoon.

But perhaps this is by design.  We parents are going to mess up.  Our children are going to make mistakes, too.  When I'm honest with my kids about my failures, asking their forgiveness when necessary, we all experience healing.  It models for them how to make wrong things right, which might be one of the most valuable lessons they ever learn.

So today, if you've made a mess of parenting, don't despair and don't hide.  Take it to God.  He already knows you did it, and He'll help you to clean it up.

Are you new to Robin Kramer Writes?  I'd love for you join me and follow my blog on Facebook.  Check out some other popular posts below!

The Lie that We Should Be Like the Other Girls
Good Moms Don't Feel Like This
When You're THAT Mother (and your kids are THOSE kids)
To the Woman Who is Trying To Do It All

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The Receiving End of Hospitality

Recently I read a humor piece by a man who hates HGTV.  One of the reasons for his disgruntlement is that every couple buying or renovating a home claims to want a space for entertaining.  He writes:

"Maybe it’s just me, but I like to have people over approximately once or twice a year, tops.  But every couple on these shows has to make mention of the fact that they love to entertain. They love to have people over, and this open concept living room and kitchen is just perfect for entertaining!  Personally, I would add extra walls to give me more dark corners in which to hide when people visit."

This made me laugh, even given that fact that we entertain regularly.  Our house becomes a hub for friends, neighbors, and family on special events, like our recent Fourth of July bash which had so many side dishes that I dubbed it The Thanksgiving of Summer.

Plus, with my husband's job as a college football chaplain, we have large groups of young and hungry people over on a weekly basis.  We feed them from a crock pot so large that it resembles a trough.

Our brand of entertaining, though frequent, is rarely glamorous.  It's more like an assembly line where twenty guests make their way through our kitchen in a line and devour 15 pounds of taco meat, or pulled pork, or spaghetti with meat sauce, depending on what meal we prepare in bulk that week.  There are no frills, but there are plenty of dishes afterward.

This past weekend, though, I was on the receiving end of hospitality.  We visited my husband's aunt and uncle who live about an hour a way for the day.  It was a large gathering with cousins and cousins' children (who, according to Google, are called "cousins once removed," in case you wondered but, like me, can never keep the nomenclature straight.)  And there was food -- lots of food! -- and I prepared none of it.

I simply made my way through their kitchen in a line, sampling a bit of everything, and was so grateful for the hospitality.  When I commented on being chilly, my aunt-in-law (which is a term I'm making up, but think that Google would accept) loaned me a sweater.

I felt extremely welcomed and cared for.  It's good to be hospitable, and it's equally good to be on the receiving end of hospitality.

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To the Next Crop of Young Mothers

Early yesterday evening I saw a teenage neighbor and her friend drive down our street, windows down, radio playing, friend in the passenger seat laughing, wind blowing through their hair.  It was the picture of freedom.

I watched with admiration.  It's been a while since I've looked like that.  I no longer leave the house at 7:00 in the evening, windows down, by myself or with a friend.  When I'm pulling away on our street, it's now in a minivan with three school-aged kids in tow.  I'm the mom shuffling kids to the pool with a tote bag for towels and sunscreen, or to the library with a tote bag for books, or to the grocery store where I forget our reusable tote bags and exit with too many plastic bags instead.  I always seem to be carrying things, like a Sherpa.

I'm the opposite of my teenage neighbor and her friend with the wind blowing through their hair.

Yet, as I watched their car disappear down my street, I remembered that years ago, when my children were babies, I often felt undeniably trapped during the evening hours.  I could get through mornings and afternoons, but evenings sapped my resolve.  My girls were most fussy after dinner, and I'd spend those languid evening hours rocking and pacing with a baby crying in my ear, feeling as if the walls of my house were closing in on me, that I might never make it through.

There were some desperate nights then.

Now, with school-aged kids, even though my days still brim with activity, shuffling, whining, correction, meal preparation, and cleaning up after messes, it's not quite as hard as those early years.  When I watched my teenage neighbor drive away, I experienced a small surge of wistfulness at her freedom -- just enough to remind me of how powerful that urge had been years ago, how I had felt that I needed to get out or I'd suffocate.

I don't feel that intensity any longer.  It's easier now.

But I know that some moms, especially you dear young moms who can't even slip out to Wal-Mart by yourselves for twenty minutes because babies need to nurse and toddlers are clingy, do feel this way.  The baby keeps crying, the walls are closing in, and you feel -- even though you love your children -- that you're losing a part of your mind or yourself.

It's real.

And, as I learn mostly in hindsight, it's a stage that passes.  You get yourself back. 

One day we were the teenagers driving away, carefree.  At some point, we might be the mom rocking the baby, watching the teenagers in the car and wishing it could be us.  And maybe, just maybe, someone older watches us when we're with our young children, reminiscing wistfully about those earlier years because their own children have grown and are now gone.  Life is funny.  The cycles keep cycling.

But, today, if you're going through a hard part of the cycle, give yourself grace and keep going.  It will pass soon enough.  Somehow it always does.

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These Days, You'll Find Me in the Garage

We no longer can park either vehicle in our garage.  The entrance to one stall is blocked by a truckload of rocks that were delivered from a local home and garden center and now await their slow removal, wheelbarrow-full by wheelbarrow-full, as they get placed in our garden landscaping.

The other stall is slowly getting taken over by piles for the garage sale we'll hold at the end of the month.  As I carry boxes of outgrown clothes, books we'll never read again, and unneeded household items, I already hope for the elusive garage sale impossibility: that every single item will sell.

Between the boxes, I've set up drop cloths and a station where I'm working to refinish a cabinet, a bookshelf, and our kitchen table.  I finished the kitchen table once before and was so pleased with the results -- dents had been filled, Sharpie marker and other stains from the kids had been sanded off, and the new driftwood gray finish was a vast improvement from the old blonde wood.  My good work was short lived, though: months later, the kids spilled a bottle of nail polish remover on top of old work papers, which caused the print to transfer onto the table, decoupage-style.  So now I'm sanding it down and trying once more, hopeful that this could be the time that actually sticks.

This lifestyle of putzing and painting, working with my hands and cleaning up the messes from the rest of the year, fits the month of July, the one month where I'm most distant from academia.  In July, if you need me, you'll find me in the garage.

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New Things: Vacation Edition

Last week we went on vacation with my husband's family.  Each summer for the past ten years, we've traveled together for one week each summer to the shore of Delaware, sometimes near Fenwick Island, and this year on the north side of Bethany Beach, toward Dewey and Rehoboth.

For obvious reasons, I love the idea of vacation.  It's a chance, quite literally, to vacate your normal routine.  I stepped away from teaching and campus, and I checked email just enough to be considered borderline responsible.  This was good. 

Even better, vacation is a time to have new experiences, a few of which I'll detail here for you.

1) Car Troubles.  About halfway to the beach -- deep enough to be far away from home, yet not deep enough to be close to our destination -- the transmission of our minivan spontaneously died.  It was ugly.  I never had given much thought how we'd navigate a breakdown on the highway en route to vacation, and I'll spare you the details, except that it involved a long wait and small rental vehicle.

I should add that our rental car was the cleanest vehicle that I have traveled in for the last decade, which (almost, but certainly not quite) made me forget about the accompanying expenses.

2) New Running Trails.  Almost every morning before the heat of the day, my husband and I took a run.  I'd like to report that we ran together, but he's much faster than I, so he'd join me for my first mile (his "warm-up") before I'd continue at my slower pace.

I found new trails that were flat, well-marked, and happily populated with a handful of walkers, bikers, and other runners.  Even though I got turned around one morning and ended up running a mile more than I had intended, I always aim to pick safe and easy routes when I'm in unfamiliar locations.  (One generally unstated life goal is that I refuse to become the subject of a Reader's Digest "Drama in Real Life" article. Safety first, kids.)


Plus, one of the trails led me to a scenic outlook where I paused to catch my breath, watch the water on the bay, and take a picture of my feet, because you take pictures of your feet when you're on vacation.

3) Kayaking.  Our rental house had a kayak for our use just a short walk away, and one evening while I was on a solitary kayaking expedition, I saw a bald eagle.  He was so close I could see the yellow of his beak as he flew overhead, and then he landed in a pine tree where I sat and watched him, paddling every so often to keep myself anchored to the spot.

I had no phone with me to capture a picture, but I think I preferred just having the moment to myself.

4) Funland.  There's nothing new about our family visiting Funland at the Rehoboth Boardwalk, given that we've been taking the kids there for years, but this year Funland had a new ride: the SuperFlip 360.  I was born for rides like this.

But the moment I loved the most -- even more than riding with my kids, or the happy nostalgia of the books of green Funland tickets -- was when we met a 100-year-old woman who was in line to ride the tea cups.

That is how you live life.  You ride the tea cups on the boardwalk when you're 100.

5) The Fractured Prune.  Nobody in our family quite understands the name, but we were told a few years ago that we should visit a Fractured Prune doughnut shop.  This year we finally did.  I'm generally not a huge fan of doughnuts, as I have plenty of other dietary vices, but these were good doughnuts. 

6) Yahtzee.  My mother-in-law and I played four rounds of Yahzee during the week.  When we play, we don't just play a single column, either; we play Triple Yahzee, which gives you more places to bury bad rolls.  I was on a hot streak for three games (one game I rolled four Yahzees! Four of them, I tell you! That's a new record!), but I was slaughtered during the final game.  Alas, you can't win them all.

7) Sunscreen.  We've had this one bottle of sunscreen forever.  It never expires, and we frequently use it, yet we can never finish it.  My husband and I both marvel: how does this sunscreen never run out?  It's a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

Well, this vacation, it finally ran out.  I have her to thank.

Now we're returning to the standard nuts and bolts of life back at home, like unpacking, doing laundry, buying groceries, and getting caught up with the mail.  It's good to come back to regular life, but I'm always thankful for that week-long chance to vacate it in the first place.

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No apology needed, yet we give them anyway.

The sink in our upstairs bathroom broke.  To clarify, the pipe underneath the sink in our upstairs bathroom broke, which caused a steady stream of water to puddle at the base of our vanity along with the Lysol wipes, hand soaps, and bottle of toilet bowl cleanser.  Eventually, the puddle must have reached critical mass and spilled onto our bathroom floor, creating a puddle there, too -- one that I stepped in, which is how I discovered the leak.

My husband called his friend, a handyman for a local apartment complex, to look at the pipe.  The next morning while I was at work, his friend came, diagnosed the problem, repaired the pipe, and went on his way.  Simple.

I came home, pleased with the quick fix and how I wouldn't need to brush my teeth at my bathtub spigot that evening.

Then I looked around our bedroom for a moment, knowing that our handyman friend must have walked through it to reach the bathroom.  The bed was made, but the rest of the room was a mess.  Because I had been painting my oldest daughter's room, all of her belongings had been transferred to our room.  Unwieldy mounds of her bed linens, stuffed animals, and books were stacked on top of our own furniture.  Her mirror, bulletin board, and pictures leaned against our bedroom walls.

Clutter everywhere.

As I looked around, I wondered if my husband had thought to explain the mess to his friend as he directed him to our bathroom.  I didn't ask, though, because I know the answer would have been no.

He wouldn't have said, "You see, Robin was painting Reese's room, so we had to move all of her stuff into here.  Please don't mind the mess."

He wouldn't have said, "Sorry, I know this place is a disaster."

He wouldn't have offered an apology or explanation, because there was no apology or explanation needed.  He knows that it's our house and we live there.  He knows that sometimes rooms get painted, and possessions temporarily get relocated into piles in other rooms, and pipes break, and messes naturally occur, and other people witness them.

In other words, he wouldn't have offered an apology because he understands that people live in houses, and living can be a messy prospect.  And because he's a man.

In contrast, I've noticed how quickly apologies are issued when a woman lets another woman into her home -- sometimes even before the guest steps through the front doorway.  Sorry that there's still a half-eaten waffle and syrup dripped on the kitchen table, even though it's almost dinner.  Sorry my kids have dropped their socks everywhere.  I'm just warning you... this place is a mess.

Our apologies and explanations suggest that it's a moral failing if throw blankets aren't neatly draped across the back of couches, or mail is unsorted on the counter, or shoes are left at the front door, or unrinsed dinner plates still sit in the kitchen sink. 

We apologize to each other for living in our own spaces, as if this is wrong, as if real life shouldn't take place within the walls of our homes.  At the same time, we all know that real life does take place in our homes -- and, sometimes, real life involves a broken pipe, a painting project, and a bedroom in a state of upheaval.

Best yet, real life also involves friends who are willing to come at a moment's notice and help when you're in a pinch, without caring whether your bedroom is messy.

That's real life.  When no apology or explanation is needed, let's stop giving them.

Let's give other people the gift of knowing that our houses look just like their houses: lived in.

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