Hunkering Down

Right now, the rain cascades in heavy, slanting sheets that pelt the ground.  The university where I teach, notorious for never shutting its doors, has cancelled all classes and activities for the rest of the day.

We're hunkering down.  The little one naps, the older girls color at the kitchen table, and my husband turns on the Weather Channel.  We've stocked up on bottled water, batteries for flashlights, and Oreo cookies.  The important stuff.

All the things that seemed so urgent this morning -- meetings, classes, deadlines -- don't seem terribly urgent right now.

We're together, and that's important.

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Great Expectations (the whisper-shout)

This weekend I'm headed to the Allume Blogging Conference.  I sense that this is coming at the precisely the right time.  On a practical level, I'm eager to learn from those bloggers who have gone before me.  I'm poised to embody the adage: Learn from experience.  Preferably other people's.

I'm old school, too.  I'll be the woman holding the legal pad and scribbling notes with a pen, not clacking at the keys on my laptop.  Look out.  I'm prepared for this to be my trademark.

On a personal level, if there's ever been a good time for me to get away for a weekend, now is that time.  I'm tired, my friends.  If I can mix metaphors to describe my current state: I've been burning the candle at both ends, holding too many irons in the fire, and sustaining an all-work and no-play existence for longer than is healthy.

Keeping up with my three dear children, managing the planning and grading for the four college classes I'm teaching, undertaking the release and promotion of my new book: Then I Became a Mother (TIBAM!), sustaining this blog, and navigating day-to-day life like hosting weekly dinners for 30 students, having an extended house guest living with our family, keeping on top of laundry and doctor's appointments and second grade math homework, and, you know, life -- has taken a toll.

The weekend of my book release my husband was out of town.  More than anything, I wanted someone to be with me.  Instead, I was working through a pile of student papers and single-handedly taking care of those children who made me a mother.  Although I kept telling myself to buck up and power through, I spent portions of the weekend alternating between sobbing, manically laughing, and, at one moment, angrily punting a Strawberry Shortcake house that had been absentmindedly abandoned on the hallway floor.  (There was some impressive loft to that kick, I must admit.) 

It's what happens when you're depleted.

I need to step back and remember who I am.  To soak up the realization that God is pleased with me -- crazy about me, actually -- regardless of my performance.  This weekend will provide an opportunity to do this.  It's also providing an opportunity to sleep in a hotel room BY MYSELF where I can wake up on my own accord, rather than being startled into wakefulness by a child who's six inches from my face and whisper-shouts her request that the-TV-remote-isn't-working-and-can-you-please-fix-it-right-now-because-we-really-want-to-watch-cartoons-please?

I'll be honest: I'm also a little nervous to attend.  Each time I think about heading into a large gathering of strangers, I recall Anne Lamott's fantastic description of the awkward mingling that leads her to skulk and then fall into a weird shuffling, lurk mode.

Knowing how my mind works, I've forewarned myself that I'll need to take reality checks throughout the conference.  I'll remind myself that I'm just one person -- that this isn't a competition or a who's-who, that my worth isn't based on the size of my platform, and that I'm not called to do what everyone else in the room is called to do.   Because no matter who you are -- whether your blog is just beginning or yielding highway traffic, whether you're clinging to dream or publishing your first book -- I'm not sure if you ever feel like you've "arrived."

I certainly don't feel as if I have.

This weekend, I'm just Robin, the imperfect Strawberry Shortcake house-punting mother who, like always, desperately relies on Jesus for my strength, my security, my provision, and my sanity.

And I expect to hear that still voice of God whisper-shouting, "That's enough, Robin.  That's enough."

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Blog Hacking: Joel Speaks

With my newborn baby -- our third daughter -- cradled in my arms, I paced the family room floor, hushing and rocking, back-patting and spit-up wiping, and ultimately, coming to an unlikely middle-of-the-night conclusion that it was time to launch a blog.

That was two years (and over 500 blog posts) ago.

As I look back, I realize that this was one of my better impetuous decisions.  After all, considering that I was sleep deprived and hormonally unstable, I could have opted to do something equally rash but much less productive, like getting a drastic haircut or eating a regrettable amount of chocolate.  Instead, Pink Dryer Lint was born.

This upcoming weekend, I'll be joining with other bloggers as I attend my first blogging conference.  Allume has invited the husbands of the 2012 attendees to hack their wives' blogs and provide a post.  So, please let me introduce you to Joel, the man who compliments me so well.  He'll take it from here.

When Robin began blogging, my one caveat was that if she ever told a story that I was a part of, that I'd be the hero.  You know... the myth, the man, the legend.  Over the years she's shared countless stories of our lives, but never once has she mentioned me fighting crime or my feats of superhuman strength.  I'm still holding out hope.

Robin, on the other hand, shows many characteristics of a hero.  Through the ordinary course of a day, she shows an amazing devotion and kindness toward those around her.  She makes people feel special.  I think that's part of why Robin's blog connects with so many mothers.  I've seen firsthand some of the lives that Robin has affected, everything from the man who reads her blog to better understand his wife, or to the young mom who recently stopped me at church to tell me that she just plowed through the last two years of the blog in two long sittings.

Last night I planned on going to be early.  Instead, I stayed up an extra 45 minutes reading Robin's new book, Then I Became a Mother.  It brought me back to our first few years of parenthood together, and it reminded me how happy I am that we're in this together.

After all, every great hero needs a heroine.

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The Release: Then I Became a Mother

Can I please direct your attention to the lovely book cover in the right sidebar of this blog?  Do you realize what this means?   

Then I Became a Mother is officially published!   Can I get a TIBAM?

One click on the cover will direct you to Amazon where you can read a description and purchase it.  But first, let me share what two reviewers have said:  

If I had it my way, this book would be a required gift to each expectant mother at every baby shower.  (Christiane Bilezikian Potts, Taking on Magazines)

As a mother of three little ones, I treasure every chapter in Then I Became a Mother.  It's one of those, "she stole my diary" AND "how'd she know I needed to hear that?" books.  Like motherhood itself, TIBAM is full of laughter, tears, unforgettable stories, naked truth, and beauty.  I will recommend this book to my very own sister, and I recommend it to you. (Laura Booz, author of Blogger Behave)

Enjoy, my friends, and please spread the word!

Reading this post from the email subscription?  Then simply follow this link to Amazon or join us at the actual Pink Dryer Lint blog!

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On the Eve of the Release

At the tail end of each of my three pregnancies, many thoughts paraded through my head.  If I recall correctly, the three most common ones (besides from wondering where I last had placed my car keys) toggled back and forth between "I'm ready to be finished with this" and "I'm not ready for what comes next" and "Bring it on."

I'm feeling extraordinarily pregnant today. Not in terms of cramping legs, baby kicks, or the rumbling of early contractions, but in terms of being on the cusp of something new.

Then I Became a Mother will be released tomorrow.  Years ago, the idea was conceived.  (Gestation periods for books, at least if I'm the author, are significantly longer than gestation periods for babies.)  Since its conception, I've watched the idea grow.  At times, I've been sick over it, a tense and nauseous mess who'd rather curl back up in bed and eat Saltines than forge ahead.  Along the way, I've often wondered what the idea would look like when fully-formed.  Would its likeness reflect my eyes?  My humor? 

So, today I pace, knowing that tomorrow marks the day when the book comes to life and is laid bare to the world.

Each one of us faces moments like this -- these interims of pregnant expectations -- when we put ourselves and our efforts on the line.  We bare our hearts, we speak our minds, we press publish, and we're unable to control how others will react.  It's hospital-gown-wearing vulnerable.

Now, especially now, I ground myself for the intermingled joy and pain that is to come.  Others will love the book, I believe, yet I can't let their praises inflate me.  Some will not, I presume, yet I can't let their critiques unravel me.  In Christ alone -- I breathe these words in and out rhythmically -- is where I ground my worth.

And I nervously chew on ice chips, but that's beside the point.

Months from now (once the sleep-deprivation lifts), I'll look deeply into the face of my book and gently advance through its pages.  As my gaze lingers over the words that were lovingly chosen and painstakingly arranged, I'll realize afresh that its completion confirms a part of God's calling on my life.  If only because of that, the book will be beautiful in my eyes.  I'll forget the pain of bringing it into the world.

That's probably when I'll want to write another.  But that's beside the point, too.

And here is the cover!  One look reveals why the recent discovery and gift of a dandelion was so significant to me!

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Who Are You?

I hear it in my head at times.  There's a background soundtrack that creeps into the forefront of my thoughts and asks me, point blank, "Who are you to write a book?  Who are you to set yourself up as a voice for mothers?"

And these are legitimate questions because, well, who am I, really?

I'm a woman who remembers to show up at my daughter's soccer practice, but forgets the water bottle, the portable lounge chair, and the extra windbreakers for the kids to counterbalance the fact that the soccer field is inevitably 10 degrees colder than anywhere else in my town.  (Perhaps my state.)

I'm a mother who loses her patience as I'm getting my girls ready for church on Sunday mornings.  Can you just put your shoes on your feet, child?  Shoes on your feet.  Shoes!  On!  Your!  Feet!  We're going to be late.  TO CHURCH!  And fire flashes from my eyes and my voice hits an unnerving decibel and I walk through the church lobby looking at the other mothers and wondering if they, too, have already needed forgiveness before they entered the 9:00 service.

I forget to pre-treat laundry.  I didn't serve any vegetables at dinner this evening.  Tonight, none of my children got their baths.

I try my best, but clearly I don't always have my act together.  (I never want to pretend that I do.)  In short, I'm a typical mom.

And that's why I wrote Then I Became a Mother.  Because we need reminders that we're not alone in this gloriously imperfect mess of motherhood.

Today, I took my daughters on a nature trail that we've never visited before.  The girls found a pile of fallen leaves, raked them with their hands until the pile swelled to the perfect size, and then jumped with abandon.  Breathing in the earthy mustiness, I soaked in every detail: how the sunlight illuminated the golden leaves as they erratically found their way to the ground, how the girls' laughter spilled forth, how the wind blew my hair.

I've known what it's like to endure motherhood, to grit through the hours until bedtime, to yearn for the day when we finally pass the stage of nighttime wakings or temper tantrums or potty training.  But as I watched my daughters playing in that pile of leaves, I wasn't enduring anything.  I was attempting to stuff my heart full with the sounds and sights and smells.

An hour later when we returned to our car, our jackets were marked with burrs and the girls' knees bore dirt stains.  My oldest daughter pointed to the ground.  "A dandelion!"

This is a rare find -- an improbable find, really -- on a mid-October day when the Pennsylvania ground frosts overnight and the earth is littered with fallen leaves.  But there it was: a dandelion.

Unaffectedly, my youngest daughter plucked it from the ground it and handed it to me as an offering.  An imperfect gift, much like motherhood.

And at that moment, I cried. 

To be continued.
Then I Became a Mother was released October 20.  TIBAM!  Humor, hope, and encouragement for moms.  Available in both Kindle and Paperback editions.

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Facing Writer's Block? Look for the Ordinary.

It's rare for me to sit down at my computer without knowing what I want to write.  In my two years of blogging, writer's block hasn't interfered much.  If anything, my greatest hindrance has been remembering where I placed the scrap of paper on which I scribbled the list of future post ideas or the snippets of half-formed sentences that I wanted to share.

Then I hit this week.

I'm stymied with the notion that everything I write this week should be significant.  After all, I have a book being released on Saturday.   Don't real authors have significant things to say?

I don't.  At least not today.  Because what I'd like to to tell you is that this week, in all respects, is an ordinary one.  This week, one of my most pressing thoughts revolves around the fact that my youngest daughter seems to be convinced that she's a puppy.  This week, I've considered writing about what happens when you accidentally run glitter through your washing machine and dryer.  (We're going to sparkle for a while.)

I've also wanted to tell you that this week is bulk trash collection week in my town.  My husband and I unearthed the junk from our garage, piled it on the side of the road, and watched as pick-up trucks trolled up and down our street, circling like birds of prey over roadkill, and loaded up their flatbeds with our broken hose reel, a half sheet of drywall, and some warped plywood as if we were living in an American Pickers episode.

Plus, this week I've been wondering if the photographers who take school pictures of elementary school students ever think about the fact that they're forever commemorating toothlessness and bad haircuts.  Or, I might tell you about the late night when everything in my life seemed so out-of-sorts that I spent a half hour organizing the clothes in my closet according the color and sleeve-length and found it to be exceptionally therapeutic. 

Perhaps I could share about the drawer in our kitchen that holds a sizable collection of holiday-themed No. 2 pencils that my kids have been given at school, church, and birthday parties, but add that none of these pencils are sharpened because we don't own a pencil sharpener that actually sharpens pencils.  However, we do own two pencil sharpeners that mangle pencils into unusable, dull nubs.

Or, I might confess that sometimes I look at our kitchen table after a meal and want to burn it instead of going through the daily process of wiping it down.  I could also tell you that my husband bought Halloween candy too early this year.  Seven mini Butterfinger bars later, my stance that we should wait to buy the candy until the last minute was solidified.  (And Butterfingers just keep on giving, don't they?  Half of the candy bar is stuck in your teeth even after you eat it.)

This week I've been thinking about all of these insignificant things, knowing that they're teeming with ordinariness, and do you know what?  They fit just right.  While this blog is arranged around the theme of motherhood, one remarkably unremarkable feature is that it's also arranged around ordinary moments.  The stuff of life.  That's what I like to share.

So, can I tell you something I've been thinking about?  You know my youngest daughter?  This week, she seems to be convinced that she's a puppy.

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Just for the Sake of Pleasure

Right now, my life is busy.  I toggle back and forth between to-do lists for my job and the upcoming book release, and I try to stay afloat with the happenings in my house: turning in school fundraising paperwork, scheduling an overdue doctor's appointment, emptying the dishwasher, remembering to buy milk.

In my haste I forget that it's fall, my favorite season.  Everything about the fall conjures feelings of warmth, coziness, home, and comfort.  I haven't capitalized on this enough.

So, I did something.  I hung garland on my front porch.

Then I adorned our front steps with a mum and pumpkins.

There's something to be said for enjoying beauty for the sake of beauty.  There's significance behind taking time to celebrate, pausing to savor, and permitting yourself to enjoy a ritual.  It's why my friend who loves Diet Coke pours it into a glass, always with ice, rather than drinking it straight from the can.  It's why we make our beds in the morning even though we'll sleep in them again at night.  It's why I occasionally paint my nails when I don't have have time to sit and paint my nails.  The act forces me to be still and to polish a small, tangible aspect of my often-unwieldy life.

Just for the sake of pleasure.

If you're like me, as a mom, there are times when you don't even take the time to use the restroom, much less to steal a few moments and treat yourself to small kindnesses.  But it's in these busy, chaotic times when we need these little kindnesses the most.

Savor something today, even if it's small.

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See that stack of paper?  You're looking at the printed final draft of my book, Then I Became a Mother.  Occasionally I refer to the book by its acronym: TIBAM. 

Of course, you've got to pronounce it correctly.  The stress obviously goes on the second syllable. TI-BAM! 

Feel free to imagine me saying this while giving my thigh a good-natured slap.  Or, you could envision its use in a comic where the superhero freezes time and meets all of the physical, emotional, intellectual, and social needs of her children while simultaneously preparing a nutritious dinner, completing an elaborate craft from Pinterest, and reaching the end of the day without one stain on her clothing.


But most often, I find myself saying TIBAM throughout the day when I notice something about my environment -- or something about myself -- that wasn't evident seven years ago before I became a mother.

When I slide open the top rack of the dishwasher and realize that every single item is either a plastic bowl or plastic cup, I shake my head and chalk it up to TIBAM.

When I memorize the PBS cartoon lineup, it's because of TIBAM.

When I'm woken at six in the morning by a child who urgently wants to know whether it's true that the national bird is an eagle, TIBAM is written all over it.  Ditto for when a child discovers that a stamper works on her sister's head.  Or when the child sitting in the back of the minivan shouts "DUCK!" each time we drive beneath an underpass -- and I repeatedly comply with the request.

When I station myself at the kitchen table to help my oldest daughter with her nightly math homework or find myself spending a Friday evening at the sidelines to watch soccer practice, it's due to TIBAM.

When I rummage through my purse in search of my car keys but instead find a diaper, a naked Barbie, Goldfish cracker crumbs, and a pine cone, TIBAM is at work.

When I see the young mother in the supermarket -- the one hushing her crying newborn, the one who feels like the walls are closing in on her, the one who hasn't yet had the chance to learn from experience that the cries aren't as upsetting to anyone else as they are to her -- I want to hug her and tell her that it's going to be okay, because, well, TIBAM.

When I understand that it's possible to be equally thankful for bedtime at night and awestruck by little faces in the morning, I utter a quiet TIBAM.

When I find myself rushing some of these days to escape their tedium and when I desperately cling to these days to soak up their goodness, I know that it's all part of TIBAM.

Then I became a mother.  TIBAM!  It changes everything, doesn't it?

Update: Then I Became a Mother is now available in both Kindle and paperback editions.  Humor, hope, and encouragement for moms.  Enjoy!

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When $15 Goes Missing

As the evening quickly darkens, I'm walking along my street back to our house with the girls in tow.  Reese has been selling cookie dough for a school fundraiser.  Extrinsic motivation works for this girl.  Just the promise of earning up to 20 plastic penguins to string on her fundraising lanyard has her itching to sell.  (Obviously, I need to capitalize on this in conjunction with household chores.)

After the girls kick off their shoes and hang up their jackets, I review the order form: one hundred and five dollars worth of cookie dough sold.  A good start.  Then I look in our envelope and find ninety dollars.

Somehow we had misplaced fifteen dollars.  And when I mean "somehow," I mean "by repeatedly dropping the money envelope on the sidewalk" and when I say "we," I mean "the child who loves to fundraise."

Rushed this time, we put on our shoes and jackets back once again and troll up and down the street.  I rotate the flashlight slowly as it were a lighthouse beacon searching out the lost dollar bills that (I hope) are still afloat in the waves of our neighbors' grass.

We reach the end of our street.  No luck.  Then I point the flashlight down the final driveway and see a flutter of dollar bills in the far corner.  Reese snatches them all.  The prodigal money had returned.

Once we're near our house, I comment to Reese.  "God sure took care of that for us."

She pauses for a moment.  "Did you pray about it, Mom?"

I hadn't.  I hadn't even thought about praying, to be honest.  As soon as I realized that the money was missing, I had gone into action-mode: searching out the flashlight and rallying the troops.  "God still helped us, though," I added.

She looks up at me in the glow of our porch light.  "Well, I prayed."

And this mama's heart is full tonight.

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Why I'm Avoiding the "31 DAYS" Trend This Year

There's an ongoing trend in the blogosphere -- the 31 Days trend -- where bloggers select a theme and write a theme-related post each day for the month of October.

I haven't joined that trend this year. 

I did think about it, though, for about two-and-a-half minutes.  Then I made a conscious choice not to join the online festivities.  Here's why:

1) I'm a frequent blogger, not a daily blogger.  I know a few daily bloggers, like Heather at Live with Flair, whose blogging serves as a daily devotion and celebration.  I applaud this.  It's not me, though.  I'd rather write three or four solid posts per week when I have things to say than to force seven posts per week when I don't.

2) I have these three young kids, you know.  I couldn't sustain a motherhood blog without them, but they require a lot of attention.  As they should.  Plus, I have a husband (whom I love dearly), and a job with grading and deadlines and emails (oh my!), and friends (although I don't see them enough), and commitments (campus dinners, nursery duty, a meal for a friend who had a baby), and a house that doesn't clean itself (drat!), and a book coming out in 13 days (whew!), and some other stuff that I'm surely forgetting.

Life is full.  Given that fact, this blog needs to work for me -- not the other way around.  Blogging is my outlet, not my obligation.  I fully intend to keep it that way.

3) I rail against comparison.  The fact that I devoted even 150 sustained seconds thinking about participating in 31 Days means that there was some draw to it in the first place.  What was that draw?  Well, if you catch whiff of certain circles, it seems like everyone was doing it.  And while I can pick that statement apart and dissect its ridiculousness, the truth is that saying yes sounds appealing when saying no means that you might be left out.

Still, I know better than this.  Just because someone else is called to do something doesn't mean that I'm called to do that thing.  Your friend might homeschool her children, but the thought of homeschooling might cause your left eye to twitch and your world to implode in on itself in catastrophe.  (That's how I'd envision things if I homeschooled, at least.  Just saying.)

There is not enough time on God's green earth to do what we're not called to do.  Repeat that statement to yourself: There is not enough time on God's green earth to do what we're not called to do.  This isn't about blogging.  It's about knowing your purpose and respecting your boundaries. 

So, I didn't participate.  Is the 31 Days trend wrong?  Not at all!  I'm sure it will yield some fabulous writing and bless many bloggers and readers alike.

It's just not right for me. 

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Kids don't need extraordinary. They need YOU.

The other day I stumbled upon this video in a motivational blog that I enjoy.  It's worth a watch.

Impressive, isn't it?

I left a comment on the blog to the effect of, "And I thought I was being awesome when I sat down with my kids and made bongos out of paper plates and styrofoam bowls yesterday morning."  Attaching a toy train to a weather balloon that's rigged with an HD camera and finding it miles away with an old cell phone's GPS is awesome.  It's also out of my league.

I thought nothing more about my comment until I noticed that someone had replied to it.  The reply was from a man named Bryan, someone whom I've never met.  He wrote, "If you ask your kids, you were."

Stopped in my tracks.

If you ask your kids, you were.

Bryan, whoever and wherever you are, thank you for this perfectly succinct dose of perspective.

You know, our kids don't scroll Pinterest or read blogs.  They're not ingesting Facebook status updates or keeping up with the activities that other mothers are doing with their children.  That's on us.  No generation before us has had this much exposure to how other mothers are mothering.  Our mothers saw when the neighbors down the street called in their children for dinner, of course, but us?  We're inundated with thousands of activities that we're not doing with our kids just by sitting down at the computer.

If you're like me, sometimes this can cause you to forget all that you are doing.

Our children don't need us to be extraordinary.  We're already pretty extraordinary to them.  What they need is us.

Now that's a thought worth sending to space.

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